Homeschooling under the Influence

After I wrote my posts on academics and socialization, I realized that there is another way homeschooling affected my life—and it’s no less significant. In fact, it’s a whole lot more significant. Quite simply, homeschooling affected my life because it changed my parents. When I was born, my parents were fairly ordinary evangelical Christians. That didn’t last. Their involvement in the homeschool movement introduced them to new ideas they had not before been exposed to—ideas put forward by people and organizations like Michael Farris and HSLDA, Michael and Debi Pearl and No Greater Joy, and Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. I simply cannot overestimate the affect this had on my life.

Somewhere in all this were these toxic ideas about control, and this insidious idea fed to my parents that they could, by homeschooling, completely determine the way we children would turn out. The homeschool literature my parents read urged them to see themselves as gardeners carefully pruning and shaping us, tying us here and clipping us there, gradually turning us into their ideal Christian men and women. My parents were promised a result, promised perfect children if they followed the perfect homeschool formula. In some sense this entire ideology robbed my siblings and I of agency, turning us into mere projections of my parents, frozen snapshots pinned on the wall.

First, of course, was the dominionism. A big word for a simple concept, but apt nonetheless. Michael Farris is easily the best known figure in the homeschool movement, and the promises that fell from his lips were sweet to my parents’ ears, their path greased by the still-raging rhetoric of the culture wars. I heard Farris speak several times, in addition to reading his literature, and one motif he was fond of was that of the Joshua generation. Farris told parents that the public schools were like Egypt, and that they were the Moses generation, taking their children out of Egypt and educating them in the wilderness. Their children, he said, would be the Joshua generation, who like the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan would retake America for Christ, creating a nation built on Christianity and God’s law. My parents bought it hook line and sinker, and looked at my siblings and I as though we were their golden ticket.

Based on this newfound ideology, my parents told us children that the reason dad was working an ordinary job rather than being a pastor, or a missionary, or a politician was so that he and mom could raise up a large number of godly offspring to go out and do all of these things a hundred fold. We were the arrows in my dad’s quiver, and they were raising us to shoot out into the world to make a difference for Christ. This is called Quiverfull, an ideology born and nurtured in the homeschool movement, passed from homeschool mother to homeschool mother and homeschool co-op to homeschool co-op like a disease. My parents were honing us and training us, they told us, preparing us for this mission. Did I mention that this could feel dehumanizing, and stifling? Oh, sometimes it could feel gloriously empowering. But the only dreams we were allowed to have were the ones our parents fed us. Step outside of that, and our parents’ smiles would instantaneously turn to frowns. And believe me, we all knew it would happen. We watched it happen, sometimes to us personally and other times to our siblings.

This leads into my next point—the utter amount of control my parents exercised over all of us offspring. Somewhere around the time I was eight or so, another homeschooling mother passed my mom Michael Pearl’s To Train Up a Child. This child rearing manual urges parents to see any disobedience as outright defiance and to see the parent-child relationship as oppositional. In fact, it goes so far as to instruct parents in how to break their children’s wills—and to threaten that those children whose wills are not broken will grow up to be miserable failures in life. This was all new to my parents, but once again, they took it in as gospel truth. Their homeschool friends all swore by the book, so it must be right—right?

The biggest thing I remember in all this was the utter rage of not being listened to. Back talk was not tolerated. In fact, any questioning of a parent’s word was out of the question. Obedience was to be immediate, complete, and without question. If it wasn’t, it was disobedience. Oh, and obedience was cheerful. Sour faces got us sent to our beds. Normal human emotions were curtailed. Dragging your feet? Complaining? Moping? A spanking, or a timeout, or a hundred sentences to write. You’re trying to explain your case? More swats, more time, more sentences. Shut your mouth, don’t talk back. Don’t question your parents. Obey.

During my teenage years my parents adopted another line fed them by the homeschool movement—that the concept of “teenager” was a modern invention, and contrary to God’s plan for the family. Rebellion was unnatural, and not to be allowed. Questioning was frowned on, and quickly answered with emotional manipulation—the dense fog of disapproval was enough to make the strongest of us buckle and give in. Further, during our teenage years we were expected to bear the responsibility and workload of an adult, but without being given the freedoms of an adult. It was like being two years old, and thirty, in a fifteen year old body. Where we went, who we were friends with, what music we listened to, and what books we read—all was still carefully monitored and controlled. And being homeschooled meant we could never get away. We were smothered under all of it.

But there was more. At a homeschool convention my parents came in contact with the marketing and literature of Vision Forum, a group whose influence has become pervasive in many homeschooling circles. Their literature is passed from homeschool mom to homeschool mom and their speakers get top billing at the main homeschool conventions. Their message is a patriarchal family order that encompasses not just husband and wife but children as well—especially daughters. Words like courtship became commonplace, and the idea that fathers should help their daughters pick their future spouses suddenly became natural. Dating was quickly off the table completely, and we awkward homeschooled teenagers eyed each other warily from across the debate table or co-op room. The idea that you could control and direct your own love life? Unthinkable. Absurd.

And suddenly the male arrows were being fashioned very differently from the female arrows. My brothers were to go out and do great things for Christ, but my sisters and I? We were to be stay at home homeschool moms raising large broods. We learned to cook, and clean, and care for children, seeing our daily lives as junior mothers as practice for our future lives. It was an odd sort of tension we girls inhabited. We were to change the world—but we were to do so by being homemakers and raising a dozen or more children. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. Choice? That’s a dirty word. All that mattered was your god-given role. Any earlier dreams I’d had were cut short and I was soon unable to dream beyond the future my parents so carefully laid out for me. And then there was the whole college thing. I got lucky. Through all of this my parents held onto the value they placed on education, and they sent me, a girl, to college in spite of the warnings against it they received from some quarters. I got an education. Other girls didn’t.

And then there was the huge problem when I began to question and leave my parents’ beliefs and ideology. Having been taught by the literature of the homeschool movement to see me as clay they could mold as they saw fit, they were shocked when I shook myself and chose my own direction. They had been promised the world, and were suddenly coming up empty on their investment. It was like the Greek myth in which Pygmalion sculpted a statue of his ideal perfect woman, and then it came alive. Or at least, it would be like that myth if Pygmalion had reacted with anger and rage when the statue came to life and dared move from the pose in which he carved it. When I began thinking for myself my parents reacted as though they suddenly saw me as broken, ruined. And in some sense I was. They had put everything into making me into this certain specific image, and then I dashed it all by asking questions and making up my own mind. I was like a mirror suddenly shattered into a shower of pieces. All of the plans they had built for me were ruined.

The homeschool movement took my parents, and it twisted them. The literature, the people, the groups, the rhetoric—my parents were drastically changed as a result of their decision to homeschool. The ideas that filtered into our home from the greater homeschool movement had an impact on my life the depth of which it is difficult to express. These ideas shaped how I saw myself, dictated my dreams, and created a fairy future that was dashed the moment I dared stop and really think about all of it. The triumphalist dominionism, the stifling authoritarianism, the all-encompassing patriarchalism—this was the stuff of my childhood. And the wake of destruction that followed was the rot produced by ideologies that so suffuse the homeschool movement that it’s a challenge for even the most independent-minded homeschooler to completely escape their sway.

This is the real legacy of homeschooling on my life. It’s not my academic achievement or the socialization issues I faced as a result of growing up in a bubble. It’s all of this, the things that have left my family damaged and torn even today, temporarily patched back together but a shadow of what it could be. The control, the conformity, the attempt to treat children not as individuals with their own agency but as beings to be molded into ideologically-perfect culture warriors. The emotional manipulation, the feelings of failure, the stunted and half-formed dreams. The pain, the tears, the way my blood pressure raises when the phone rings. The broken relationships, the fear, the anguish at what could have been. The ashes of a life so carefully built that burned down when I came of age, ashes blowing in the wind. I’m building something new today, yes, but the foundation I started on had to be razed and everything begun afresh, with echoes of the past still sounding in my ears, filling my dreams, and clouding my vision.

In some sense, none of this is the fault of homeschooling—but in another sense, all of it is. If my parents hadn’t homeschooled me, everything would have been different. This sounds like a huge claim, but it’s really not. My parents started homeschooling for educational reasons, not religious reasons. All of the stuff discussed above? It hit them after they entered the world of homeschooling, not before. And because my parents never stopped attending the evangelical megachurch that fit them well when I was small, and not so well as I grew, I can make a bit of a comparative study. By the time I was high school aged, there was a huge gap between me and most of the other kids who attended that church. They dressed like normal teens, listened to Christian rock music, and attended youth group. I didn’t associate with them or befriend them—for one thing, my parents felt the church youth group was too worldly, and for another thing, their social networks revolved around their schools and thus de facto shut me out. Instead, I stayed close to the homeschooled children of a few of my parents’ friends who had also attended the church from way back. We were different—they were like me. If we hadn’t been homeschooled, we would have been like those youth group kids. Evangelical, yes, but normal evangelical.

The most prominent leaders and organizations of the homeschool movement—the curriculum publishers, the speakers, the conferences—are currently awash in all of this toxic ideology. Courtship, and blanket training, and stay at home daughters, and the Joshua generation—it’s pervasive in many—if not most!—homeschool circles. Of course, there has always been dissent from this cocktail of ideas: you’ll find that while rural areas often only have Christian homeschool groups and co-ops, more liberal areas have two (or more) parallel networks—a larger Christian homeschooling community and a smaller secular one. The growing number of people homeschooling for purely practical and pragmatic reasons, combined with the advent of the internet, which has challenged the gatekeeper status of groups like HSLDA, may help turn the tide. But at the moment the messaging and the networking, all of that is still controlled by Farris et al., and that means that all of this—the dominionism, the authoritarianism, and the patriarchalism—is insidiously widespread among homeschoolers. And that means that when ordinary evangelical parents like mine enter the homeschool movement, they open themselves up to being pulled into a toxic cocktail of beliefs that may forever change their lives—and with them the lives of their children.

This is the true legacy homechooling has had on my life.

Red Town, Blue Town
On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals
A Matter of Patriarchy
Why I Take My Kids to the UU Church
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.

  • Caramello

    Just… wow. You tell your extraordinary story with such powerful words. Thank you for illuminating this for us.

  • mg

    yes to all of this. i was exposed to and unfortunately considered these organizations and ideas. however for us it seemed way too extreme and we chose our own homeschooling path, which was good for our kids. these people must have severe emotional problems or a need for control to implement these things in their families’ lives. we saw some horrible things, which caused us to abandon hslda and their ilk. keep on getting the message out. thanks for sharing your journey.

  • swimr1

    That is an amazing story. You have tremendous strength of character and personal integrity to take such a stand, Libby Anne.
    A friend and her husband seem to have been somewhat sucked into this creepy evangelical vortex – largely through homeschooling. Their child needed to be homeschooled (he was not able to function in even an expensive private school). I greatly admire his mom for the very hard work she’s done with him. However, it’s been sort of sad to see the family go deeply into a world I left years ago. We don’t talk much now – there’s not much common ground when I don’t even believe in their god.

  • MargueriteF

    Thank you for sharing your story. Here’s what jumped out at me:

    “And then there was the whole college thing. I got lucky. Through all of this my parents held onto the value they placed on education, and they sent me, a girl, to college in spite of the warnings against it they received from some quarters. I got an education. Other girls didn’t.”

    In a weird, mixed-up way, it seems the homeschooling/evangelical movement is right to be concerned about college. When kids get out of their parents’ sphere of influence and get exposed to new ideas, the old ideas sometimes (often?) drop away. This is why so many homeschooling and fundamentalist parents try to keep their kids out of college entirely, or attending a college that promotes a highly limited way of thinking. If you hadn’t gone to college, would you have ever been able to shed your upbringing? Or would it have ruled you for the rest of your life?

    I have to say that I really, really hate the thinking that kids should be isolated from the world and molded into little ideals from another era. I don’t know what we should do about it, though. Governmental oversight to make sure homeschooled kids aren’t being abused is certainly a start– but where does abuse begin and end? Should the government be able to intervene if kids are being forced into rigid gender stereotypes and outdated expectations? Is that abuse? I’d say probably not, and yet… stories like yours are just heartrending. I don’t know what the answer is.

  • Gary in FL

    There is an important part of your story I’d really like you to follow up with, and that’s what’s happened to your siblings. Have any others broken free from the grip as you have? Are there brothers and sisters who’ve become MORE extreme than your parents in their views? Do you ever talk about or compare what your experiences were like growing up? Or do your siblings avoid you now because of your views? Since you’ve shared so much from your heart already, I would really appreciate it if you could bring out this part as well. Peace.

    • Libby Anne

      Their stories are theirs, not mine, and I generally try to give them privacy because of that. The short answer is that yes, some of them have walked the same path I have, and yes, we compare notes on our experiences, process things together, and bond over what we’ve been though. Of course, many of my siblings are still at home, growing up, and I can’t say what their lives will look like once grown. I can only wait and be there for them if they need me.

    • Libby Anne

      Also, here is an article I wrote a year and a half ago in response to this question.

      • Kate Monster

        Do your parents still encourage their children–particularly their female children–to go to university, given the effect it had on you? (I ask because I don’t remember you having mentioned this ever, and I didn’t see it when I re-skimmed the article you linked to)

      • Kate Monster

        Whoops! I see someone beat me to asking this already in the comments. Carry on!

  • ewok_wrangler

    Another powerful, thoughtful essay. It’s amazing you could come to have this amount of perspective on your childhood, a breadth of insight that many of us don’t get until much later in life, if ever. A question: since you gained this perspective on your parents, have you been able to talk about that history with them? Have they gained any insight on it?

    • Libby Anne

      No. At the time it was just too painful (and besides, I hadn’t processed it all yet!), and now we operate under a fairly strict “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on, well, just about everything.

      • Sophelia

        I was unable to talk about anything to do with religion with my parents for many years after the trauma of being exorcised when I was fourteen and then when that did produce the hoped-for results I found another place to live. Recently we’ve at a place where we can begin to talk about it without it being too much to cope with emotionally, but I find myself stuck on how to talk to them when the entire basis of my “common sense” is so different to theirs. For example, when I expressed concern about a family member who was hearing voices encouraging him to be violent and telling him that he was immortal and suggested urgent psychiatric care, my mother’s response was that the problem was that he was listening to the wrong voices, and that if he listened to the holy spirit instead of demons the whole “hearing voices” thing wouldn’t be a problem. Where do you even start with that?

  • ewok_wrangler

    A small editing niggle. You consistently misuse “X and I” as an object, as in “looked at my siblings and I”. If you split it up at the “and” the error is clear: “looked at my siblings and looked at I”. A small blot on your otherwise stellar writing skills.

    • jd

      Actually, it should be “looked at my siblings and looked at ME”, not I.
      just as the former phrasing would have correctly been ‘looked at my siblings and me.”
      Take out the first part “my siblings and” and the correct pronoun is me, not I.

  • Truthspew

    Reading your account it struck me, what you suffered was child abuse. Yes, abuse.

    And I look at parallels in my life. My father tried to be an authoritarian and I having been educated in Catholic schools, knew was bovine effluent.

    It culminated when I was about 16. My father decided I’d paint the house that summer. One day I’m up there, painting and he says “I could get a four year old to paint better than that.”

    I got down off the ladder, handed him the brush and said to him “Go get a fucking four year old!”

    Yeah – I was a willful one, still am to some degree. It’s probably one of a multitude of reasons why I no longer wish to speak to my father.

  • Wendy

    What makes your story so compelling to me is that it’s obvious your parents mean well, and are intelligent and well educated. Yikes! There but for…something, something…go I, ya know? What was their tragic flaw? (Or is it, as I suspect, they just had bad luck and bad timing, and any of us could be seduced?)


    • MrPopularSentiment

      We love our kids and we’re all at least a little terrified that we’re messing them up. I think that all parents are vulnerable, on some level, to the certainty of the mindset Libby Anne describes.

  • “Rebecca”

    Pardon the personal question, but I was wondering if your parents have allowed any of your siblings to go to college after seeing you “fall away?” Do you think they view your higher education as a mistake on their parts?

    • http:/// Kristen Rosser

      Yes– it does seem as if from your parents’ point of view, their mistake was sending you to college, not raising you in a way that continually “provoked children to anger,” as the apostle Paul had the sense to caution parents against.

      • Libby Anne

        Interestingly, Ephesians 6:4 was a verse my dad repeated constantly. He made it sort of his motto.

    • Libby Anne

      Yes, they do see sending me off to college like they did as a mistake—and, in the midst of the crap several years ago, before things settled down a bit, they said as much to my face. However, that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on higher education entirely—just state schools.

  • smrnda

    Something that I find strange is that anyone can believe that there’s some foolproof method to getting your kids to turn out ‘perfect’ by any standards. It seems that any plan for any goal is going to work less than 100% of the time, and the more exacting the target, the harder it’s going to be to hit better than 50%, let alone 100%. I can believe a parenting strategy that claimed you could make sure your kids would be employed and not likely in trouble with the law, but promising such an exacting standard as a guaranteed result just seems ridiculous.

    I’m sure lots of kids raised in this environment don’t turn out to be the ideological clones that were promised, and you’d think this would discredit the program, but I’m sure that people will blame themselves and not the program, and stories of successes are probably highlighted more than the kids who grew up and broke away.

    How do people end up believing in perfect formulas and plans to begin with? Is it just a tendency some people have to believe in a foolproof plan out there, somewhere?

    • Rosa

      that’s one of the marks of a cult – the system can’t fail, you can only fail the system.

      LOTS of families have children – often several children – who they shun or (if they are speakers/bloggers in the homeschooling/conservative family lifestyle market) write out of their family history. But they don’t give up on their belief system, they just think they failed to do it strictly enough, so they double down with the younger kids.

      Like the “homeschooling as cause” vs. “homeschooling as choice” distinction, this is a place where people show if they are really putting their children first. Too many aren’t.

  • Serena

    What a powerful read. Ultimately, it’s just so sad that your parents are blinded to the amazing, thoughtful person you are. I feel for you and wish they could “wake up” from the brainwashing they experienced.

  • saraquill

    What about Michael and Debi Pearl, and the adults who practiced their abuse ideology without growing up with it? According to the Pearls, you will grow up to be a drug addicted hell bound prostitute without regular beatings for not being a cheery robot. Do they believe that this will happen to them, the parents?

  • MrPopularSentiment

    Vyckie Garrison talks about the same thing from the parents’ perspective. She really started going down the road to crazy when she got into homeschooling. And, certainly, when I do research about homeschooling or try to find homeschooling materials, a great deal of it is crazy religious.

    That being said, more and more secular parents are homeschooling (for a variety of reasons, usually involving academic opportunities/philosophies or providing a more supportive environment for a child with a disability) and, as a result, there’s now a lot more secular support networks and resources for homeschooling families than there were even just ten years ago.

  • Brightie

    What strikes me is that this attitude of “input=output” isn’t homeschooler-exclusive… it’s fairly pervasive in one of the churches I have attended, which is mostly public and private schoolers, and I’ve even seen a speaker under the auspices of Focus on the Family warning against it at one point as an example of a common way in which a Biblical passage is taken out of context. Something’s wrong with this picture, even from inside the rabbit-hole. We shouldn’t have a situation where if children end up following a different path from their parents, the parents are either convinced that the child must come back because they were “trained up” correctly, or terrified that they have personally sent the child to hell by failing to teach them correctly in some way.

  • Isaac

    I love this post, because it reflects my experience almost perfectly (except that, being male, there was no conflict about me possibly moving on to university).

    My parents were similarly sucked into the world of the Christian Right through homeschooling, and I can attest to the insidious affect that blind trust in these sort of organizations has. After a while, it starts to affect everything about your life- a good example is my mother, who was turned into a creationist for a while through my curriculum and the constant barrage of lies and anti-science culture in the HSLDA and local homeschool groups.

    • Brightie

      Creationist in general–just believing that God got things rolling in some way–or is “creationist” here referring exclusively to young-earth creationism? Just wondering, because I have run into both.

  • ScottInOH

    Thank you for another courageous and passionate post, Libby Anne. Your first paragraph suggests that you’ve only recently come to think about homeschooling in terms of its effects on your parents, but the way the rest of the post seemed to tumble out shows you’ve hit on something true and important.

    I’m afraid I’m seeing something similar in a couple of families that are close to mine. One seems to be following almost the same path as your parents did, and the other is following a Catholic version of it, but they both seem to be getting sucked further and further in. I would expect the children to go to conservative Christian colleges if they go anywhere, so I don’t know whether they’ll ever challenge their parents’ beliefs or not.

  • abi

    This is such an insightful post – and it made me consider the ways that my parents, too, were changed by their decision to homeschool, and what that did to the tenor of my family. My parents never got into the hardcore dominionist/quiverfull/patriarchy movement, mostly I think because they started homeschooling after we kids had been in public school for several years and we were too old to go along with that kind of sudden authoritarianism. We were a blended family, with all the attendant anger and resentment and dysfunction that can come from that situation, and when my stepmom met a couple of apparently well-adjusted, happy homeschool families with scads of kids, I think she reasoned that homeschooling was the missing ingredient that would fix our big angry family. It didn’t, of course; it just took us from hurt, angry, and rebellious to hurt, angry, rebellious, and repressed. But I think my parents bought into the same rhetoric your parents did, just a slightly different flavor: that religious schooling (we three older kids were sent to a tiny, fundamentalist Christian school, while the younger three were homeschooled) was the thing that would churn out smart, strong, productive kids who were On Fire For God, and so they desperately doubled down on the conservative evangelicalism instead of investing in solutions that would actually work to heal our family’s wounds, like therapy and appreciating us as individuals and giving us the space to figure out how to navigate this new life we had.

    Anyway. Thanks for writing this post – it help me see my own upbringing more clearly.

  • Sue

    It is odd that I had a similar experience, but I wasn’t homeschooled. My dad didn’t talk to us, and my mom tried to control every action and thought we had, especially of the oldest (me) and the youngest (16 years younger). My dad was in the Lutheran Wisconsin Synod growing up, and my mom had been Christian Scientist. I remember mom crying at the state fair by a dumpster in front of my friend and me because I had spent all my allotted money. I was puzzled by this because I was still having fun. I mimicked her behavior of dramatic crying for years until I realized it wasn’t me. She still does it. I used to think she was just trying to be a proper 1950s prototype mom, but I’ve recently realized I am a survivor not only of emotionally abusive parents but also of an oppressive religious upbringing. I went to a public school and an ELCA church (1960s) but couldn’t function like the other kids, although my IQ is over 155, which was used to shame me into meeting school expectations. My mom picked out my clothes and made fun of me, yet accosted me about not being popular. I think now I had ADHD inattentive type. I was in 2 marriages where the guys flat out told me what they expected me to be, and I tried to be that. Neither one was Christian or anything at all. One even hit me, and I didn’t leave until I met the second one. I’m married now to a sweet Christian guy who has developed dementia due to a stroke, and I am his caretaker. I am bright and have a technical school type job that requires brains (medical transcriptionist). I pray every night and read but no longer go to church. It seems ripe for failure, just like high school was.

    I live with who I am now and have given up on “why me?” What I am wondering is whether there is anything left after living like a sponge, soaking up everyone else’s expectations and acting them out to the point of serious depression, for which I have been in treatment since my first child’s birth 43 years ago, no meds until 14 years ago.

    My mother had called me a conundrum since I was an infant until I asked her to stop when I was about 40. Since this had gone on for so long, it was hard to connect with my family outside of that role. I have been beating down that perception of me by acting loving and generous and polite, instead of angry and hurt, and this seems to be working. My unmarried live-with-mom sister is my mom’s defender but she is slowly accepting me without making remarks. The youngest is an atheist, highly degreed, opinionated, and active in the community.

    The triple whammy of anrecognizedlearning disorder, my parents’ dysfunction, and the religious burden, topped off with chronic depression, leaves me feeling lonely. Still I forge on. There’s a lot to learn, even though I am almost 64. I grieve sometimes for the life I thought I could have had, but realize it was partly my doing as far as the inattention and the intelligence (that helped me survive), and it may have been an odd life anyway. I take possession of that and let it be.

  • Meg

    Yes! Thank you for this. I’ve been enjoying the homeschooling series. It is especially validating to hear another person echo what I’ve been thinking and saying for decades. My experience in homeschooling was very similar… my parents were typical evangelicals, new to Christianity, not very extreme but when they found out about homeschooling they yanked me out of public school and quickly got involved with some really strange people and extremely harmful ideas. We got rid of our TV (cable television is the DEVIL!), tossed out secular books movies and video games, were only allowed to listen to Christian radio (which meant I was forced to listen to Christian rock and Adventures in Odyssey, instead of listening to secular music and watching Saturday morning cartoons which I had enjoyed until I was 7 or 8), they brought home lots of tracts and books with crazy ideas like Halloween: Of the Devil? and something about how Barbies sexualize young girls and promote secular values, my mom read Mary Pride’s antifeminist screed, my dad went to Promise Keepers, they went to homeschool conferences, were completely immersed in extremely radical conservative Christianity. As they took away each thing from TV (not my PBS! and family sitcoms!) to trick or treating, I just remember being extremely confused and thinking that it was just crazy, irrational of them to do those things. We moved out of town, we became increasingly shut off and insular from mainstream society… it was so scary. I just remember being terrified. I didn’t know what my parents would do next. And they jumped on the Pearls child-beating bandwagon, as well as the Quiverfull crap, even going so far as to get involved with ATI/IBLP and the Bill Gothard cult where the darkest memories of my life can be found. The extreme control was just unbelievable to me, it didn’t make sense. Especially as they sought to control more and more of my life, the older I got which seemed backwards, an unhealthy obsession and it really destroyed my relationship with my parents. As a child grows older, they should be allowed more and more independence, to foster healthy exploration of the world and teach them to be self-sufficient, but my parents were told that they needed to break our spirits and that it was vital to our spiritual health that they control everything in our lives, that one slip-up would allow the devil to come in and seize us… that we were always a step away from hellfire… I remember when they started telling me what to wear, forcing me to wear long skirts and dresses, policing every aspect of my life. I remember hiding in the bathroom for hours… wanting to run away or die, not because I was forced to wear dresses but because I was not allowed to make any decisions for myself, because I wasn’t given room to breathe or think for myself. My only source of privacy and comfort was reading. They didn’t always monitor the books I checked out from the library and most of the modern classics I picked were just outside their radar. I read some scandalous banned books, a lot of things I was sure I would be caught and in trouble for reading, but somehow I never did get caught or have books taken away. I had to read at nighttime because during the day there was no quiet or privacy. I still have nightmares about being treated like a criminal, living in a prison, having every single right and personal space and privacy stripped away, being forced to live in this authoritarian hell where there was no reasoning or counter-arguments allowed. Dialogue was not in my parent’s vocabulary. Emotions were stunted and punished. There was a significant lack of science and critical thinking in our house. Just writing about this right now gets my blood pressure rising. I suppose I should stop before I have a panic attack. Thanks again for sharing this, Libby Anne. Keep doing what you’re doing. I’ve been searching the internet for years to find another person with views similar to mine on homeschooling. The dissenters are few and far between. Most people will just automatically defend homeschooling and see any criticism of it in any way as a direct attack on them, or if they were public schooled and bullied they will defend home school because they desperately wish they had been home schooled and protected from bullying or apathetic teachers or crappy school systems. It is a very personal topic that polarizes people. It’s just rare to find anyone who will speak of it honestly and dare to voice any criticism of it in any way. Thanks again. Meg

  • Susan Raber

    I think the desire to conform and be part of a group is facet of human nature that can foster unity and cooperation, or result in mind-numbed robots. This happens in public schools as well as in homeschooling circles.

    I only have one minor disagreement with your post- “During my teenage years my parents adopted another line fed them by the homeschool movement—that the concept of “teenager” was a modern invention”. While your parents may have come across this concept while homeschooling, latched onto it, and used it inappropriately, it did not originate with the homeschool movement.

    I recommend Robert Epstein’s book “The Case Against Adolescence”, and you can read a great interview with him at the Psychology Today website in an article called “Trashing Teens” for a more accurate view of where these ideas come from, and where they should lead.

    What is sad about how your parents changed is many of these actions are rooted in a fearful kind of love. We have to struggle against the desire to not allow our children to ever experience pain, or make mistakes. We lose sleep at night knowing the loss and heartache that living life brings with it. We want to encase our precious ones in bubble wrap physically and emotionally so that they don’t make the same mistakes we made. But too much protection does just as much harm as not enough.

    Your experiences are regrettable, but just because some (such as the HSLDA) have become the ‘face’ of conservative homeschooling doesn’t make them the majority, any more than Tiger Woods represents golfers or Stefanie Meyer is the standard of YA fiction. However, the impression that they represent homeschooling can be damaging to others who home educate, just as Tiger Woods’ behavior had an impact on golfing, and the Twilight series has paved the way for some very badly written paranormal romance. I think to be fair and honest, we have to weigh each experience on its own.

  • Corin Goodwin

    I am sorry you had this experience… but I have to say that I think it’s very unrealistic to paint all homeschoolers this way. There is indeed a demographic whom it fits quite well, but there are also even more homeschoolers who don’t buy into any of this. Just because your experience was so awful does not mean that every other homeschooler has had a similar experience. As the ED of a nonprofit that provides support to thousands of families homeschooling their children, I am deeply immersed in the many homeschool cultures. Ferris is *not* the best known homeschool, and his organization (HSLDA) has a lot of credibility problems.

    On a personal note, I homeschooled my now-16yo daughter into college, where she is now a Junior at university with a major in environmental science and biology. She’s planning to head off to graduate school next. My younger son is still homeschooled and has friends of many ages and interests.

    We’re not Christian, either.

    So again, I am sorry that your parents put you through something that worked out so badly for you. However, I’d ask you to please not generalize from your admittedly limited experience to the larger homeschool population. There’s a lot more out there, it’s quite mainstream, and the numbers and opportunities are growing.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Reading comprehension is your friend. That is all.

  • Susan

    I’m sorry homeschooling was so bad for you. We did not jump on the homeschool bandwagon for religious reasons, and that hasn’t changed in more than 12 years. It was a huge decision for us, and the kids’ opinions were taken into consideration. They can return to public school any time they like. We belong to a very active hs group, and my kids have friends. We encourage them to ask questions, to think.

    I applaud your determination to look beyond what you were spoon-fed. It takes a lot of courage.

  • Homeschoolmomx2

    I hope my children don’t end up portraying me as an ignorant follower with no ability to think and make decisions for myself. I guess I have never been a “follower” and although Christian don’t subscribe to any of those theories or movements. That has to be a fringe because we have hundreds of homeschoolers in my area and know so many of them and I know none that behave in that manner. That does sound awful, but I was private and public schooled and bet I have some
    stories that could rival yours. I think this was
    more if a religion issue than homeschooling in general. I pray to God that no one is deterred from homeschooling from your experience. This is the first I have read of your writing and the bitterness is evident. I feel bad for your parents as I am sure they didn’t plan on destroying you.

  • Mandi

    I attended public school for my entire educational career, but I grew up as part of a very strict Pentecostal denomination, so I had some similar experiences. We were to dress a certain way, avoid spending time with “worldly” friends, attend church 4+ times per week, etc. Fortunately, my parents found the milder (but still damaging) James Dobson instead of the Pearls. When I hit adulthood, I left the church, cutting off pretty much my entire social network. I explored more mainline denominations before rejecting religion altogether. Still, I choose home education for my children.

    You’re right, it can be lonely for secular homeschoolers, especially here in the Bible belt. The problem is, in areas where such a great majority of the community is made up of conservative Christians, they saturate every institution in the community. We have an evangelical Christian “university” in our town, and their people influence the local government, commerce, and even the schools. A good portion of local public school teachers received degrees from there. I attended three semesters there myself, and know that James Dobson’s “breaking the will” was taught as fact in the child psychology class required of all education majors. At least in our community, homeschooling may actually be a *less* religious option.

    And religious or not, how do you get a 6-year-old to sit for 6 hours a day? Not by preserving his will, that’s for sure. I want my children to retain their innate curiosity, their open-mindedness, their creativity. I don’t feel that the classroom is conducive to that.

  • Anna

    Thanks so much for the blog posts you write! It’s refreshing to hear someone coming from a perspective that used to be so familiar, and know that other people have had similar experiences to me. Sometimes it can get lonely feeling like we kids who were raised like this were all just so isolated. It’s nice to be able to connect and come together. :)

  • Kay

    Thank you for sharing, and moreso for showing personal education does not end when a child becomes an adult. I homeschooled in those early Focus on the Family Days. In fact, when they decided to gain political power by subdividing so everyone saw multiple groups instead of one band of determined men- christian home, homeschool, politics, “research” each offered the same message with a separate fundraising PAC. It was very hard to be a parent and not be influenced. To have peers we needed the groups being “supported” in the radical beliefs you have well expressed. Our family had to split off because our beliefs of academics and individual worth and dignity includes children. They are not clay to us. Our obligation to prepare them for the future, not chain them into the past. As you have seen, the future requires much more than blinders. And you are being part of it too. My Dad used to say to me, “God doesn’t have Grandchildren.” Home and traditionally schooled families both forget that. We raise peers, other children of God, and our children need to make personal choices and convictions of their own. Not all families made the choices yours did. Many didn’t get included by the influencers and others, like us, separated again. You may not have been like those evangelical teens, but rather like the many who were not there to be a part in their teens. But it is good you recognize it was easy to fall into it and the reason your family was vulnerable was because they were dedicated to their understanding of what was best for you.. I’m glad for you that strength and openness were lessons for you, even if they were sidestream. Your sharing helps many.

  • Nina

    This was heartbreaking to read on so many levels. First, what you went through was abuse. “To Train Up A Child” is one of the worst texts on the market and it amazes me that anyone would publish a book that advocates such cruelty to children.

    All of that said, I do plan to homeschool my child for strictly educational reasons. My husband is agnostic and I am the most liberal Christian I know. I have no doubt that we will avoid the unfortunate pitfalls your parents made with you and your siblings. In fact, many very “worldly,” non-Christian families I know either do or plan to homeschool their children. Their children are extremely well socialized and very “normal” as compared to their peers. It saddens me that some very well meaning parents – who may or may not be Christian – might stumble upon this post and be totally dissuaded from homeschooling their children. Homeschooling does not have to be an isolating, abusive, and secluding experience. It can, in many ways, open lots of doors that children in a traditional school environment may never get the opportunity to experience. I think as with all things, anything taken to an extreme will most likely end poorly. Moderation is the key to life.

    • Lana

      Nina, if a parent is persuaded not to homeschool based on one opinion on the internet, then I don’t think that parent is a very independent thinker, and its probably good he or she is not homeschooling. I mean, really. Any parent who is honestly seeking what is best for their kids will read up on both perspectives and both sides and both educational opportunities, and then consider what is best for their kids. An article may help in the decision, but one article as a stand alone probably will not make the decision.

      Second, I do think any homeschool parent should be aware of the influence among homeschool crowds. My parents were like Libby’s parents. They started homeschooling me because kindergarten did not go well. They still enrolled my sister in kindergarten and thought they would homeschool me for a year, and then reevaluate. 12 years later I was still being homeschooled. My parents who had bought me cabbage patch dolls and trolls threw them in the garbage when I was in second grade. I saw my friends burn Rebecca Saint James CDs. How they went from a family who thought they would send their kids to public school to a family with such legalism is hard to understand, but perhaps if someone had set them down when I was five and said, “look, legalism is out there. Beware of the influence,” then my life would have been different. Article’s like this one is not “sad” at all; they are freeing.

  • Lili

    I am so sorry that you had to endure this, the book you mention about upbringing sounds a lot, almost verbatim, of books written in the early 1900 about child rearing and that German psycho analyst Alice Miller, writes about in her book “For Your Own Good, The Roots of Violence in Child Rearing” I highly recommend this book to you, it may be helpful in the healing process. I write this with love and compassion, no child should be treated this way. Unfortunately our society still does not defend the rights of children, our child rearing practices are still embedded with domination and control, which can only be achieved through violence (verbal, emotional , and physical). Many of us homeschool because we don’t want our children mistreated, disrespected, manipulated or worse by their schools and teachers. Not that all teachers mistreat children, not at all, some are loving and compassionate, but they all should be loving or not be working with children. I hope that you and your family can find a way to heal, what your parents have done is hurting them as much as it has hurt you, My prayers are with you.

  • Jen

    Thank you for having the courage to step out of that lifestyle and then to share your experience on the Internet. People, homeschooled or not, do need to be aware that these influences exist so they may recognize such ideas if they encounter them, and posts such as this are enlightening. Hopefully, you are saving others from buying into such cultures as well as healing those who may have experienced them.

    I am sorry that homeschooling was an awful experience for you. Clearly, the act of homeschooling did lead your parents to their abusive and radical religious beliefs. As I read this post and others connected to this issue, my stomach tightens, and I feel awful for the children growing up in this type of environment. I also analyze our own homeschooling, and I think about those who homeschool around me. Thankfully, I have not fallen into hslda, Farris, or any of the others. In the 12 years I’ve been homeschooling (for educational reasons–I was a teacher before–although I happen to be Christian), I have never belonged to hslda (never saw the reason, had other places I wanted to spend our money, and didn’t want money to go to an organization that obviously spends it on issues other than homeschooling), I’ve never even attended a homeschool conference (again, I didn’t see the need, and there are other things I’d rather spend our money and time on), and we’ve been involved with many, many activities such as co-ops and classes (both Christian and secular). Our children participate in a plethora of activities from heavy involvement in theatre, horseback riding, golf, and gymnastics to experimenting in fencing, art, piano, violin, etc., to many days spent at places such as museums. Each child follows his or her passions and interests in their activities and in their education. I do make sure they are well prepared for college (and college is their choice, btw), and, in fact, I hope that all 4 kids will take some college courses on campus in high school if they choose not to go to public or private school. As someone involved in many homeschool activities and as a homeschool assessor for at least 100 families, many people around me have similar homeschool philosophies and approaches as I do. Sure, there are those who differ from me and some parenting decisions with which I disagree, but that exists in any schooling segment, private, public, or homeschooling. However, I do realize that homeschool families such as what you experienced exist. Fortunately, for my family’s protection, I have managed to stay far away from them. When we moved to a new area last year and were looking for a new co-op, we steered clear of ones which sent up flags that they were full of fundamentalists. I don’t want to be influenced by them. It was easy to find a couple of good co-op choices as, fortunately, the number of religiously balanced and secular homeschoolers has risen greatly in the past years. So, please, everyone, don’t assume that all or even the majority of homeschoolers are caught up in the climate the writer unfortunately was. Hopefully, when people find out that my family homeschools, they don’t automatically lump us into a group of fanatics. If so, time spent with any member of my family should quickly change their minds.

    I wish all who are healing from this upbringing the best. Please keep enlightening and helping others.

  • MJ

    I have never in my life posted a comment on an Internet blog or news article, but I couldn’t NOT comment on this.

    Your story absolutely breaks my heart. As an evangelical Christian (a “normal” one, to use your term), I am horrified by the things that some parents do to their children in the name of God. The saddest thing about it is that these parents love their children and think they are doing what’s best for them–but they are being led astray by people who are (at the very least) extremely misguided and abusing their power as leaders. It is a tragedy when parents’ love for their children and their faith in God are twisted into something so toxic and hurtful. 

    I think it’s amazing that you are able to see how your parents were gradually pulled in and why it appealed to them. You obviously have been able to really process and work through your experiences. I don’t know where you are at in terms of your personal beliefs and I certainly don’t want this to come across as offensive, but as a Christian myself, I hope that you are able to separate your parents actions from the truth of what the Bible teaches. 

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences in regards to homeschooling. In my area, there are many families who are homeschooling in a MUCH more healthy and positive way. I’m not a fan of the testing focus in public schools and have considered homeschooling my own son. (He’s only four months old now.) Your blog has given me much food for thought in terms of making sure that his social, emotional, and educational needs are met–in whatever setting we end up choosing. 

  • Sylvia Phillips

    Your posts are fascinating to me. I feel the same way except I am a 54 yr old mom who has come out of this way of life, though not as extreme as the one you describe. I was very disillusioned when my oldest children grew up and stopped going to church. I was taught to believe that if we homeschooled our children this would not happen! We didn’t belong to a church or group that taught these beliefs but I read the books and tried my best to adhere to the rules! My husband and I have always abhorred the Pearls however. That man is dangerous and abusive and his wife is a kook! His teachings are despicable and disgusting! We have since abandoned our foray in the patriarchal/dominionist lifestyle. We have not raised our younger children in this way, though we do still homeschool!