The Unfundamental Conversion

Blur Between “Educational” Homeschoolers and “Religious” Homeschoolers

April 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Lana Hope in Homeschool

A comment left over at the Homeschoolers Anonymous Facebook Group sparked something for me – the myth that we can separate the religious influence of homeschooling from most of the general homeschool population. Here’s a criticism left on the page.

Is it really necessary to smear the practice of homeschooling with the behaviors of the conservative christians?

While you may not realize it, there are real people who feel homeschooling is appropriate for their children because they believe it provides a better education. This is very different from the religious who want to “protect” their children from the real world and have a freer rein to indoctrinate them with their beliefs.

His comment is really nothing new. People often insist that even among Christian homeschoolers that there was a clear divide between those homeschooling for educational reasons and those homeschooling for religious reasons. In fact, that was the initial criticism I got for the content on my blog. “But Lana, your perspective of homeschooling is too narrow. Only a few Christian homeschoolers are legalistic like your parents were.”

Okay, perhaps today there is a distinction. In the 90s, I never saw it in our group.

Let me illustrate with this diagram. Most people think it goes like this. Christians homeschooling for educational reasons on one side, and Christian homeschooling for religious reasons on the others.

homeschooling Influence

But the thing is — going back to what I remember of homeschooling in the 90s  — almost without exception (albeit some exceptions existed), most people hanged out in the pink. They were both educational homeschoolers and religious homeschooler. And the thing was, there was no clear line between educational homeschoolers and religious homeschoolers.

You couldn’t walk into our homeschool group, and take half the people and put them on one side, and the other half and put them on the other. They were both. Sure, not everyone was that legalistic, and not everyone was quiverfull or into Christian Patriarchy, but almost without exception, we were all under the religious movement’s influenceFor those of us Christians who were in homeschooling for the long haul, it wasn’t a question of whether or not we were “religious” homeschoolers: it was a question of whether  we were knee-deep, or just a little into the religious homeschooling movement. Did the influence come to our toes, our hips, or our shoulder? That was the question.

For example, because of the influence of Joshua Harris, almost all homeschool parents did not allow their kids to date. Nevertheless, there were a few families in our group who did allow dating.

Family integrated churches and home churches were popular in homeschooling, but some homeschoolers went to megachurches. Nevertheless, the mega-church homeschool family still likely did not do youth group, or if they did, likely did not date.

On the modesty note, most homeschoolers emphasized modesty. Some made their girls wear dresses only. Others, like us, just wore them a whole whole bunch. Others never bought the dresses bit or the homeschool look, but they were still very modest.  I remember, about five years ago, the gossip of the homeschool group was a homeschool girl who wore a dress with a spaghetti strap to the homeschool dance. Her dress had a high neck line — we could see nothing — yet it was the talk of the group. Clearly, everyone was under some sort of modesty spell – it was just a matter of how much.

The same went for curriculum. Everyone did not use Bob Jones, ATI, or A.C.E., but especially back in the 90s, it would have been hard to find curriculum that had no bias leanings to the Christian Right and Young Earth Creationism.

Perhaps the most pressure came from parenting itself. Even if a family did allow dating and had liberal textboook and weren’t quiverfull, for example, it was hard to be immune to the social pressure of how Christian girls and boys should look and act. This really isn’t a surprise; public school kids have peer pressure, too. But there was a stigma that good Christian homeschool girls must have manners, say Mrs. and Mr. Last Name (by the 2000s, I heard more young children address my parents with their first name), smile, act cheerful, be obedient, be respectful, and socialize well with adults. There was much more than this, of course, but it was all so superficial and based on appearances while often using spanking and other techniques to get the children in line. Again, not everyone spanked, but they were still likely under the appearance influence.

Think about it. A progressive Christian homeschooler socializes with other homeschoolers.  As soon as the child says “crap,” the other mothers will jump on the progessive mother to tell their kids not to say that word. The pressure to act like a homeschool kid is very, very real. (I’m sure today homeschool kids say crap, but back in the day, we did not, at least in front of other moms.)  I did not learn the F word until college (kind of good, though). No one leaked the word out to me because everyone was that “godly.” Everyone just kinda talked and acted alike in public (in private, another world often existed).

And that brings me back to my story. Try to cut out the “movement” from my homeschooling experience, and quite frankly, there is nothing much left. Because no matter how many positive aspects of homeschooling I can create in my mind, all of them are infiltrated somehow with legalism and religion. Libby Anne mentioned this with the idea of freedom. See, for me, there is no doubt that I had a lot of academic freedom, particularly during my high school years. But I was not free to go hang out with friends. And that’s how homeschooling was for me. I had one sweet fruit in one hand, and had a bitter one in the other. And some of my friends had more sweet ones than others, but we had bitter fruits, or at least bitter bites.

And that’s why we homeschool alumni are speaking up. We’ve seen that the influence from HSLDA and others did infiltrate the Joshua Generation (what they called us) like they wanted. We want our voices to be heard before its repeated to the third and fourth generation.

Because homeschooling can be better.

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  • eliza

    “even though I know homeschooling was originally started by secular people.”

    Do you have more information about who started the homeschooling movement in america? I thought it was started by Rousas Rushdoony in the late 60’s/70’s ..

    Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

    • Lana

      To my knowledge Rushdooney advocated private schooling in his younger days. John Holt started advocating homeschooling for purely secular reasons in the 60s and wrote the first national homeschool magazine. Technically unschool.

      • I think both of you are on the right track. Rushdoony originally advocated for private religious schooling, but his teachings are, in my opinion, the single largest influence behind the Christian homeschooling movement. All it takes is a comparison of Rushdoony’s beliefs about society and education with the stuff most of us heard throughout our childhoods to make this obvious. It is the focus on the supposed irredeemable taint that all knowledge not explicitly “Christian” has that leads to the isolation and rejection of all mainstream ideas.

        In my experience (I was homeschooled in the Los Angeles area in the ’80s – one of the oldest homeschoolers I knew throughout the process), both influences were strong. On the one hand, there was *plenty* of the, “homeschooling is how to keep your kids from being contaminated by the world,” but there was also a strong strain of “the educational-industrial complex is a terrible way to give kids a love of learning.” I don’t think either can be entirely separated out from the movement.

        I do think that there is a much greater diversity these days. I am glad that my kids do have other options than the fundamentalist groups.

        • Lana

          Interesting. I almost wonder if their were less religious homeschoolers in the early 80s than their were in the 90s when I started out? I totally agree. Your kids will have it much different; second generation homeschool parents are much different than first, too, because they aren’t in new territory. As I’ve said many times, I speak mostly about the 90s, and our town in the South, really.

  • Maybe it was different where you grew up. I homeschooled my children both in Florida and in South Dakota and while all the fellow homeschoolers I knew were Christians, ALL of them were in it for the educational benefits. In SD there were two families who were “kind of weird” because the moms wore only dresses (not the daughters). We had a very large group, but it didn’t include all of the homeschoolers in the area. No doubt there were others, more insular, who were into the whole patristic movement, but the majority — the overwhelming majority — were not.

    I think the problem here is not so much homeschooling per se, Lana, but the whole patristic lifestyle movement. THAT is certainly harmful and I absolutely advise against having anything to do with it. I started homeschooling my two older children for two reasons:

    1) My son was not learning to read and there were no programs in the public school at that time to help him — by the time he got home from school he was too tired of the whole thing to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening learning to read.

    2) Children at my kids’ school were being robbed by other students at gunpoint. I was interviewed by the police in this investigation because I was the one who reported it. The police told me they found a cache of guns under a piece of plywood in the nearby orange grove. This sort of thing was not uncommon.

    3) Years later, my (much) younger daughter asked to be homeschooled. When we moved to a more rural area she went back to public school for a couple of years, then because off sexual harassment at school (which the administration seemed powerless to address) requested to homeschool again. I didn’t make any attempt to influence her in her decisions.

    Homeschool families are not all cut from the same cloth. All my children are grown now, but most of my friends are younger women. Some of them homeschool their children; others don’t. Some have gone back and forth, trying to find the best fit for their kids. None of them are in the patristic movement. All of them believe women are as good as men and should be free to chart their own lives, take any jobs they like, pursue higher education, pastor a church (if they believe in churches having pastors) or do anything else God has qualified them to do.

    Yes, most if not all patristic families homeschool, but in the places I’ve lived, there are very few patristic families and the great majority of homeschool families are as various as any group you’d find at a public school function.

    • Lana

      Interesting. It could be the location. However, I would not say the people in our homeschool group were patriarchal. I’m NOT saying everyone believed the dad is the visionary of the home and that daughters should stay home. I’m not saying everyone was quiverfull. But were most people into courtship? oh, yes. Did most dress modesty? oh yes. Were most into conservative values? oh yes. I guess what I’m saying is that in my experience (and admittedly our homeschool group is a limited experience), most people bought into some of the conservative lines. Most people were members of HSLDA. We could count those who weren’t easier than those who were.

      But all that said, yes, there are plenty of good reasons to homeschool. I still can’t stand the idea of sitting in a desk. In all my complaints about homeschooling, I still don’t *like* the idea of school.

      • While noting that I don’t agree with all things HSLDA, for those of us who lived through the early days of homeschooling in areas where truancy arrests and CPS investigations of homeschoolers were common, HSLDA really did do important work, and probably is the organization that can be given most of the credit for the fact that we even have the option to homeschool today.

        • Lana

          Good point, but we are not in the 70s and 80s anymore. They are selling fear now because they know that their services are no longer needed.

          • Ben

            Not true. Homeschoolers drive the technocrats nuts. Here in Alabama (!) the state school superintendent recently attempted to exert some control over homeschools and private schools, and the legislature had to pass a law to stop it. Not sure if the HSLDA had anything to do with that particular effort, but there are constant attempts to do this kind of stuff and I, for one, am glad there is a legal group there to fight them.

            BTW, I am not a fundie or even a homeschooler (although we are looking into it). I just believe in liberty.

  • Cristi

    I was homeschooled K-12 and it seems like one of those things that your reasons can start out simply educational, but like you said you do start conforming to the culture you’re in. Rules got stricter, ideas got more insular and elitist so influences outside homeschooling got fewer and fewer. And as this happens, you don’t even realize that there’s something different.

    It took me years to detox from all of it and even longer to get over the shakes at the thought of public school. Now my 1st grader is in public school and it’s the best environment. I had this idea that kids sitting at a desk all day and it’s just not that way. People sometimes don’t understand how I can be so positive about public school (as they complain about this or that happening at the public school), but when you’ve been raised to think that all public school is evil – when you finally realize it isn’t, it’s like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders. I feel so light and free, helping out at my son’s school, watching him find friends in his grade and beyond, watching him grow every day without me trying to pin him down and mold him into my ideal. I tear up at almost every school assembly that I attend just because it’s so wonderful that he gets to be a part of this and grow without that idea that everyone around you is wrong.

    • Thanks, Christi. I admit. I haven’t completely gotten over my fears of public schools. Intellectually, I get it, but that emotional fear I was fed for so many years hasn’t gone completely away.

  • I can see your point. Though we are fairly religious and definitely enjoy the spiritual benefits homeschooling brings out family, that is not the primary (or even secondary or…) reason we homeschool. But it is there. We’re pretty “pink” in that regard. However, because of the difference in our religious beliefs, we don’t fit into the mold you are used to. Our issues aren’t this particular belief or that (or *any* of the ones in your post, actually). But, like you said, there is some pressure to conform or be a bit of an outsider. Right now, I feel it a little less as I’m older and more “take me or leave me.” I think also that our local group is a bit more relaxed…

    I’m thinking of replying with a blog post as my head is spinning 🙂

    • Lana

      lol, that’s cool. I really think a lot of has changed in the last several years, though. For one, when I was a kid, you’d pull in a parking lot for a homeschool event, and everyone had large vans, 15 passenger vans, and regular vans.Three years ago I went to something with the same homeschool group I grew up in, and all the cars are small. My mom said, “but gas is more expensive.” Okay, yea, but when I was a kid, a car would have never held everyone. The number with large numbers of kids has gone down, and the more and more this continues, the less pressure all the non-Christian Patriarchy families will go under. Homeschoolers today can also be more relaxed. 25 years ago, you couldn’t just go play in the yard with the fear of what others thought.

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  • Heather

    I’m a liberal atheist single mom homeschooler of a gifted child (public schooled myself) and I don’t see much of the hyper religious aspects except in books and blogs… I am sure because they avoid me. But there are more accepting communities forming. (I am near a major city, albeit in the Bible Belt).
    I appreciate homeschooling after my personal experience in public school – even in the gifted program. If my daughter ever wants she is welcome to go herself, of course… She far exceeds standards and there’s no academic reason not to, but she is very happy so far.


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