[05/29: Comments on this topic are closed.] Well, I had determined not to say anything about this mess, but after I read one particular Patheos article about it, it did occur to me that I had something to say. I’ll try to limit this to the specific points I want to make, though I realize how tempting it is to render a verdict on the situation as a whole. I do have my opinions, and I suppose you can read between the lines and put together what I think. But my intention is not to open up a whole can of worms about abuse issues writ large.
(In case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what I’m referring to, the Duggar Family’s 19 Kids and Counting show may be canceled in the wake of the reveal that son Josh Duggar fondled his sisters inappropriately at the age of 14. Josh is now a grown man with his own wife and family.)
So, with that in mind, I want to come down really hard on a few points made in this response piece. Specifically, I want to focus on how the writer uses the Duggar case to criticize homeschooling in general. While she doesn’t come right out and gloat, “See, I knew you should just send your kids to school like everyone else!” it’s implicit in the whole thrust of the article. She makes these points in bold:
Good sex education is very important.
Sheltering children from the world doesn’t work.
Homeschooling can limit children’s ability to report abuse.
Okay. Let’s dismantle this piece by piece.
Here is the elaboration under the first point:
I don’t know for sure what sort of sex education Josh Duggar received, but I do know that children homeschooled through the Christian program the Duggars used with Josh (ATI) are generally woefully uneducated when it comes to sex. Parents who avoid more comprehensive sex education often see themselves as trying to avoid awakening children’s sexuality too early, but these efforts can end very very badly because leaving children completely ignorant about sex can be a serious problem.
Let me just start by saying that I realize ATI (Advanced Training Institute) materials are put out by Bill Gothard, and I also realize Bill Gothard is a hypocritical perv who groomed young office women for years while covering it up. So before someone brings that up, yes, fine, we can agree on that. However, the question is whether the ATI curriculum itself is so bad that it “leaves children completely ignorant about sex.”
I decided to do a little research, and fortunately several bloggers have done detailed analyses of the sex ed volume of ATI’s curriculum. This one had the most relevant pages (though of course, the blogger is only scanning them so he can rant about the scarring evils of homeschool sex ed—language warning if you take a look for yourself). And I have to say, the curriculum is pretty thorough. Do I agree with every suggestion/point/analogy it makes? Not necessarily. But unless avoiding a detailed discussion of “marital rape” or the nitty-gritty details of venereal diseases constitutes “leaving children in complete ignorance about sex” (yes, these are both cited in the second article as horrific gaps), then I really don’t know what people are on about.
The author of that second article also complains several times that the curriculum “doesn’t talk about consent.” I’m not sure what his implication is, but it sounds like he’s annoyed that it condemns sexual immorality across the board without going out of its way to parse out the distinction between rape and consensual sex. Well I’m sorry, but 13-year-old boys don’t need to be thinking about rape. Period. And I’m also sorry, but the curriculum is completely right to issue a flat condemnation of all extra-marital sex, consensual or not. We can have a discussion about gradations of sexual sin with our kids when they’re approaching adulthood. But we’re talking about 8th graders here. Then again, considering that this same “homeschool survivors” website features (I’m not making this up) free verse poetry about the horrors of spanking, my expectations of the author’s grasp on Christian sexual morality are rather low.
Returning to the woman who wrote the Patheos piece, she refers approvingly to “more comprehensive sex education.” Meaning, presumably, the kind of education children would get if they were sent to school. Well, considering that public school boys are learning how to use a condom by the time they’re fourteen (see here, p. 17), I’m missing the part where this can be convincingly touted as an improvement.
Moving on from that fail to point two (sheltering children from the world doesn’t work):
For years now, I have seen commenters across the internet praise the Duggars for raising godly children away from the materialism and sexualization of the modern world. Sorry guys, it doesn’t work like that. Please stop promoting the Duggars’ lifestyle by claiming that it has protected these children from the evils of the world! It hasn’t.
Smack, smack, smack.
I mean, wow, what a shallow, idiotic way to put it. Again, I’d like to know what the author is proposing instead. Don’t homeschool? Do send them somewhere where they learn the ins and outs of condom use and STDs when they’ve barely begun their teens? Do send the little kiddos where they’ll be surrounded by little kiddo peers who know the latest smutty pop songs by heart? Do send the teens where p*rn is passed around like currency among their teen peers, who will mock them for not having lost their virginity by graduation?
Wow. What a great idea. Wish I’d thought of it first.
Yes, all teenage boys struggle with the sexual transition through adolescence. Yes, sometimes this manifests itself in inappropriate ways, even among homeschooled families like the Duggars. Yes, Josh’s behavior was creepy and sinful. But frankly, what Josh actually did is a heck of a lot less evil than the systematic indoctrination of our highschoolers in the acceptance of every fornication and perversion under the sun. There are things he could have done that would have warranted an immediate police investigation and justly put him behind bars. And had he been attending public school, who knows how many of them he might have already learned about from his peers? If anything, the fact that he was not being sent to school should be regarded as a blessing. The fact that he was instinctively experimenting with inappropriate touching made it all the more vital that he be kept as far away from that kind of information as possible.
Okay. On to strike three (homeschooling can limit children’s ability to report abuse):
Children who attend school have contact with teachers, counselors, and other adults they can go to for help, or for advice about problems in their home situations. Both Josh and his victims were homeschooled, which almost certainly limited the number of trusted adults they could go to for help, especially given that their social activities appear to have revolved around their church and other likeminded families who probably also believed in dealing with such problems in-house. According to the police report, some of the victims did try to get help. It’s just that their avenues for obtaining said help were sadly limited.
This is misleading because it makes it sound like the Duggar parents were stifling or ignoring their girls, when in fact the police report records that they were taken seriously. Josh was eventually sent out of the house for a full four months as a direct result. Why must the phrase “dealing with such problems in-house” necessarily carry such an ominous, suspicious weight? People have grumbled that Josh wasn’t put through an “official” juvie program, when in fact the Duggars decided not to send him there because of the danger that he would meet and learn from other teen offenders!
Those homeschoolers, maybe they’re a little smarter than people want to admit.
This woman also hasn’t considered the flip side of a public school environment full of “teachers, counselors and other adults [children] can go to.” It only sounds good until you consider the scenario where little Johnny casually mentions that Mommy and Daddy spank him on the butt with a wooden spoon when he’s bad, whereupon one of said wise adults calls CPS, whereupon the whole family is put through a nightmarish bureaucratic wringer at the end of which they’re lucky to still have custody over little Johnny at all. Or the scenario where little Timmy makes a gun with his finger and goes, “POW, POW!” whereupon he’s put in detention and forced to answer obtrusive questions about his parents’ firearms collection. Or the scenario where teenage Jenny confides that her oppressive parents won’t let her have an abortion, and would her teacher please give her a ride to the clinic so they won’t find out.
So, there are my .02 on the Duggar Debacle. Comments will, of course, be monitored closely. As if it even needs to be said, I’m not excusing what Josh did, not even remotely. I’m just not excusing bad argumentation either.