I recently came upon an article by homeschool mom Lisa Cherry on how homeschoolers should respond to the recent Bill Gothard and Vision Forum sexual abuse scandals. Her article is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of her suggestions—such as homeschool co-op meetings raising awareness about sexual abuse and the importance of labeling abuse as abuse—are good, but others—such as supporting homeschool legal defense organizations that oppose homeschooling accountability—are not so good.
Most concerning of all, nowhere does Cherry advise her readers to report abuse concerns to social services. In fact, her only mention of social services is to state that they “do not understand homeschoolers.” Cherry suggests self-policing, but self-policing, while good, is not a replacement for reporting abuse to the authorities. The homeschooling community needs to cultivate a culture where abuse is reported to the authorities, including social services, and Cherry’s post does not do that.
That said, I want to hit on two themes—first, the constant focus on supposed threats to homeschooling rather than on the wellbeing and interests of homeschooled children, and second, the claim that anyone who favors homeschooling accountability is “anti-homeschooling” or “hostile to homeschooling.” For the author, these two points are conflated—anti-homeschooling individuals are drumming up hostility to homeschooling and pushing for more oversight of homeschooling, which is “frightening” and could be “devastating.”
Hostility toward the Homeschool Community Is Increasing
Online responses to these stories are flying—especially by those hostile to homeschooling. Honestly, I had not paid any attention to these anti-homeschooling voices until I saw them chiming in during the aftermath of these ministry scandals. But they are very real and very vocal. The implication that we, as homeschoolers, might need to be “watched more closely” is alarming. I do not want to dignify these comments further by providing a link, but I have seen them on several sites, and it is frightening. The hostile momentum that’s building—driven by those who would love to stop homeschooling or deeply regulate it—could be devastating to us all.
While she doesn’t clarify, the author is almost certainly talking about Homeschoolers Anonymous and Love, Joy, Feminism, among others. But here’s the thing—neither Homeschoolers Anonymous nor I am anti-homeschooling or hostile to homeschooling. The Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) board (which oversees Homeschoolers Anonymous) and myself both acknowledge that homeschooling can be a wonderful thing for both parent and child. It’s just that we are aware that homeschooling can also be a terrible thing, and that matters to us because, as homeschool graduates ourselves, we care about current and future homeschooled children.
HARO does not actually take a position on legal oversight of homeschooling, focusing instead on encouraging and supporting those who had bad homeschool experiences and finding ways to encourage self-policing in the homeschool community. So not only is HARO not anti-homeschooling, they are not in fact in favor of regulating homeschooling—they take no position.
What does it say that those simply trying to help victims and draw awareness to a problem in need of fixing are portrayed as the enemy and the problem by homeschool parents like the author of the article under discussion? In fact, this author ought to reach out to HARO if she’s interested in homeschool co-ops raising awareness of sexual abuse (and hopefully other abuse as well), as that is one thing HARO hopes to help with. (HARO, as you may remember, was recently offered a speaking slot at a homeschool convention, only to have that invitation withdrawn.)
I, in contrast, do take a position on homeschooling oversight—I believe that lack of accountability creates a situation ripe for abuse, and that there should therefore be some form of accountability for homeschooling parents. I tend to agree with the arguments made by the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), which lays out policy recommendations and has called for input and further research on how best to provide this accountability while still allowing for the flexibility and room for innovation that homeschooling offers parents.
But you know what? I’m not anti-homeschooling. I support accountability for homeschooling parents not because I want to ban homeschooling or regulate it out of existence but rather because I care about the wellbeing and interests of homeschooled children. In the rush to talk about reputation and image and threats to “homeschooling freedoms” (read, the freedom to homeschool without accountability), supporting the wellbeing and interests of homeschooled children themselves frequently gets left out of the conversation.
And Cherry isn’t the only one out there saying things like this. Karen Campbell of the popular homeschooling blog That Mom recently wrote the following:
A new, organized, and clearly focused group of former homeschool students, motivated, in part, by the bad fruits of patriocentric homeschooling, have taken up the banner for homeschooling reform, putting the very good ideals at the heart of homeschooling at risk. Their legitimate concerns over some instances of sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse of children have resulted in their misguided call for state-operated control over all homeschooling and have even extended to their advancement of “homosexual rights” for homeschooled children. Though I have had similar concerns about treatment of all children, homeschooled and otherwise, at the hands of adversarial methods, I do not share the solutions being advanced by this group! Let me encourage you to read through their websites to become aware of their agenda. I believe this group poses possibly the greatest threat to homeschooling freedoms we enjoy today and has largely been inspired by the patriarchy movement.
If Campbell wants to pin me as a supporter of “homosexual rights” for homeschooled children, I stand guilty as charged. But what really gets me is that Campbell can declare calls for homeschooling accountability “the greatest threat to homeschooling freedoms” without even attempting to explain how it accountability poses such a threat. If you read over CRHE’s policy recommendations, which she links, you will find that the oversight suggested is mild and would not in fact prevent Campbell from homeschooling or likely have any affect on the way she or other responsible homeschoolers educate their children. A good look at some of the testimonials on the CRHE website makes this fairly clear.
It’s also worth noting, once again, the differences between HARO (which runs HA) and CRHE. While they do not limit their scope to Christian homeschooling, HARO and HA did indeed come into existence as a response to oppressive and problematic religious ideologies that came to suffuse so much of Christian homeschooling — only one of which is ‘the patriarchy movement. But CRHE is different, and does not have this same level of focus on Christian homeschooling circles and ideologies as HARO. CRHE was created, instead, by homeschool alumni with a research and policy perspective. It’s in the interests of individuals like Campbell to keep these nonprofits straight and not conflate them.
With all of this said, I want to take a moment to speak directly to homeschool parents and clarify a few points.
1. This is not about being anti-homeschooling. I fear I’ve been tagged as anti-homeschooling when in fact what I’m doing is arguing that we to stop ignoring problems and start addressing them instead. And it’s not just me or other homeschool graduates saying this—some homeschool parents vocally support oversight of homeschooling as well. Are there people who are anti-homeschooling? Sure, but I’m not one of them, nor are the vast majority of homeschool graduates advocating alongside me for homeschooling accountability. We are not the enemy.
2. This conversation has got to stop ignoring the needs and interests of homeschooled children. If you want to argue against oversight of homeschooling, that’s fine, but you have got to explain why it is better for children to be homeschooled in an atmosphere without oversight rather than jumping straight to “homeschooling freedoms” and claiming that oversight of homeschooling could be “devastating” to homeschooling. That is not helpful. And honestly, if the fairly minimal oversight recommended by CRHE would in fact be “devastating” to homeschooling, you have got some serious explaining to do.
3. Bringing dark sides into the open is a call to action, not a threat. Or at least, it’s not a threat unless you are unwilling to do anything about those dark sides. If you care about homeschooled children, past, present, and future, the healthy response to homeschool graduates and others discussing the dark sides to homeschooling is not to treat those homeschool graduates as some sort of threat or enemy but rather to listen, to consider, and to find ways to improve homeschooling for future generations of children.
4. Homeschooling accountability would not be “devastating” to homeschooling. If having your child either take an annual standardized test or put together a portfolio of what he or she has learned that year would be “devastating” to your homeschooling, you’re probably doing this whole homeschooling thing wrong. If you think barring convicted sex offenders and child abusers from homeschooling would be “devastating” to homeschooling, we need to have a talk. Seriously, put down your swords and read CRHE’s policy recommendations. This isn’t about educational method—even unschoolers should have no problem creating a portfolio at the end of the year. This isn’t about profiling homeschoolers—sex offenders and child abusers can’t teach in public schools, either. This is about protecting the wellbeing and interests of homeschooled children.
And good gravy, homeschooling parents, you have got to stop placing more value on your reputation as a homeschool parent than on protecting homeschooled children from abuse and neglect. Priorities! Oh and also? Stop knocking homeschool grads who are trying to make homeschooling better for current and future generations of homeschoolers. We’re not your enemy. We’re simply putting what you taught us into practice and trying to make this world a better place.