Why Homeschooling Is Attractive to Abusive Parents

Last week a homeschool father named Steve left a comment on a post about HSLDA’s efforts to deregulate homeschooling, and I found what he had to say very familiar.

“Homeschooling” parents have manifestly demonstrated that they are willing (and able) to take a far more responsible and active role in child-rearing. Clearly they must be far less likely, on average, to neglect their children. Look at it this way: will a neglectful parent homeschool? He will not. Doing so would require an expenditure of a great deal of time and energy on his child; it will involve hard work. It is likely also to involve sacrificing an income.

This is one of the arguments against regulating homeschooling that I heard growing up—that if parents are going to go to the time and effort to educate their children at home, they are clearly responsible and loving parents who won’t be at risk of abusing or neglecting their children. So why regulate them? You’ve got a self-selecting group of good parents! Let them do their thing!

It’s absolutely true that plenty of homeschooling parents are awesome parents. They homeschool because of concerns about the quality of the education in their local public schools, or because their children were bullied in school, or simply out of a desire to carefully tailor each child’s educational experience, suiting it to their needs. These parents listen to their children, jump at any opportunity to become better educators, and center their homeschool years around what is best for each of their children.

But it’s also the case that some homeschooling parents are abusive and neglectful. I’ve actually collected together some stories of abuse and neglect in homeschooling families into onto a blog page, which you can read here.

Of course, the fact that some homeschooling parents are abusive does not mean that homeschooling parents could not actually be less likely, in terms of percentages, to be abusive. After all, plenty of parents whose kids attend public school are abusive. That I think is the point that Steve was trying to make—not that homeschoolers are never abusive, but rather that homeschooling is attractive to good parents, and not attractive to abusive parents, which would mean that on average, homeschooling parents are less likely to be abusive than the average parent. And here’s where I think Steve’s argument has a fatal flaw.

You see, it’s simply false to suggest that there is nothing about homeschooling that might be attractive to neglectful or abusive parents. Let me offer a few examples.

  • Homeschooling is attractive to parents who are narcissistic and controlling, as it allows them to have complete control over their children’s lives free from outside interference or influence.
  • Homeschooling is attractive to physically abusive parents who want to avoid the potential that their children’s teachers might see their bruises and call Child Protective Services.
  • Homeschooling is attractive to parents who are tired of trying to force their children to go to school, tired of their children getting in trouble for being late or absent, and tired of being visited by truancy officers.

In the next couple of posts on this topic, I will offer examples of parents in each of these categories. My point is that this isn’t just hypothetical—it actually happens. Homeschooling is attractive to kind and dedicated parents, but it is also attractive to abusive and neglectful parents.

I remember when, like Steve, I thought that by its very nature homeschooling would only attract dedicated, loving, and healthy parents who would do their best to give their children the most positive and uplifting education possible. I wish I could still think that, but I can’t. Over the past several months I’ve been coming upon story after story, and it is with growing dismay that I’ve realized that this educational method viewed by its pedagogical founders as so liberating and empowering for children can actually serve as a haven for abuse.

Once again, I am not generalizing about all homeschoolers here. All I am saying is that there are parents who take advantage of lax homeschooling laws to abuse or neglect their children. How many? I don’t know. We really know very little about the demographics of homeschoolers, to be honest. Many states don’t ask homeschoolers to register, so we don’t even know how many homeschoolers there are, much less things like how well they do academically or socially—and when it comes to anecdotal evidence, we have a mixture of both good stories and bad stories. I’m not saying homeschooling can’t be an awesome thing for children. It absolutely can. But it can also be a horrible thing for children, and a great deal of that depends on what sort of parents are doing the homeschooling.

I’ve already written about HSLDA and child abuse, and I want to spend a couple of posts focusing solely on abuse and neglect in homeschooling families. I will look at (1) what happens when abusive parents homeschool; (2) parents who homeschool in a deliberate effort to hide child abuse; and (3) parents who homeschool to avoid prosecution for truancy.

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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.


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