The World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, Part 2 September 6, 2009

The World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling, Part 2

I’ve been reading a book called Write These Laws on Your Children: Inside the World of Conservative Christian Homeschooling (Beacon Press, August, 2009) by Robert Kunzman. The book is a look at six Christian families and how they homeschool their children. Not every family fits the stereotype I know I have in my mind. Some are impressive; others leave much to be desired.

In the following passage, the author visits Bridgeway Academy, a homeschool umbrella organization (with over 100 families enrolled in their program) in Los Angeles. The founders are Alan and Priscilla Bartlett.

The author brings up the point that, for some children, homeschooling may not be the best option:

“So is the child just out of luck,” I ask, “if she happens to be born to parents who neglect their responsibility to educate her, and she’s functionally illiterate at age eighteen?”

“The child is not out of luck, because, see, there are larger issues here,” Alan says. “There is the providence of God. Children don’t just arrive in families by happenstance. And as hard as it is for us to be willing to understand, every family, every individual, is under the providential direction of God. But the other issue is, the family doesn’t exist in isolation. You don’t just jump from the family to the state government. There’s extended family, there’s community, there’s church. And all those things used to have a tremendous force, and to the extent that government has this larger and larger role, those forces have broken down. And the state can’t raise children. (p. 69-70)

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  • “Children don’t just arrive in families by happenstance.”

    Jesus Christ! This is ridiculous! So, what happens when a child is born into a family with an abusive father? Is this God’s will? Should the child be beaten and think it’s just a trial from God for sticking them with someone who drinks and throws fists?

    What about a sexually abusive relationship?

    This is just… Infuriating.

    (note: extremely edited for language, because it has me *so* angry)

  • What I got out of this excerpt is that it’s God’s fault if a child winds up illiterate at 18, and yet also God’s fault if that same child can read proficiently at 18.

  • Shannon

    I never know what to say to things like this. There just aren’t that many homeschoolers compared to kids who go to school. The largest estimate I ever read was 2 million, total, for the entire US (and it’s hard to report accurately because some states don’t require registration of homeschoolers). But when you face facts, the majority of the functionally illiterate adults in this country went to school. Should their parents have been forced to homeschool since school didn’t work out? I never see anyone arguing for *that*. (I’m not either by the way, I’m just making a point).

    Everything I’ve ever read says that home life and parental involvement are among the biggest predictors of how well a child will do in their education (more important than class size or what teacher they get). Yet, if a parent decides to take this seriously enough to homeschool, we’re seen as abusive and neglectful. Weird.

    Yes, of course some parents are homeschooling to shelter their kids. Just like some parents send their kids to private school, or religious school in order to keep them from “others”. Those decisions don’t get blasted as much for some reason. And of course homeschooling is not the best option for some kids. But I’d also like to point out that school is not the best option for some kids. But no one except us homeschoolers seem willing to admit *that*.

  • The biggest reason I hate discussing “whether or not God is responsible” for things is because it so often ends with thoughts like this; if we want to get really, really technical, God can be blamed for EVERYTHING, both good and evil, always, because he created everything knowing full well in advance exactly what would happen. Which makes the blame for pretty much everything completely inconsequent; if god did a bad thing, well, we can cite a million good things he supposedly was responsible for, and vice-versa — for every good thing we say he did, we can cite a million bad things.

    So to me, whether or not it’s “God’s responsibility” is completely moot. I think people need to be willing to change what they can; if a child can’t read because he/she was inadequately homeschooled by inept religious parent(s), then sure, we could just chalk it up to God’s will…but what’s the point? If we can chalk this up to God’s will and just let it be, then we can chalk anything up to God’s will. At the end of the day, it just becomes an excuse to not change things that seem too difficult to deal with.

  • So the extended family and the church are going to take care of all these functionally illiterate children who can’t get jobs or otherwise live in the normal world when they grow up? Then what’s going to happen when they have children? They themselves are environmentally retarded so the children they raise can’t fare any better. This isn’t “religious freedom”, it’s child abuse.

  • Baconsbud

    I was actually talking to a friend,who has a sister that home schools her children. The children have only been being home schooled for about 2 or 3 years but are already 6 months behind students in regular schools. They are being home schooled because the father believes god wants them to be and doesn’t seem to be worried that they are falling so far behind because of their inability to properly educate them. I would like to see a testing system nationwide required of all home schooled children. If they fail to meet the standards a second time the state would force them to attend public school. The parents could enroll them in a private school also.

  • Jay B

    When I was a kid, my brother and I were friends with a large Christian homeschool family who lived down the street. Their extended family was mostly homeschooled as well, with varying degrees of competence. Eventually we met the ones who had been really neglected. These were five bright kids, ranging in age from 17 to about 9, and the three girls had not been taught to read. They were not allowed to learn to read, because their father or their brothers could tell them what the Bible said, and when they got old enough, they would have husbands to tell them what it said. In fact, they weren’t taught much of anything beyond housework and enough math to manage the grocery shopping.

    I understand that this one family was off the deep end crazy and completely not representative of the homeschooling experience. Homeschooling is, in fact, something I support on principle (although I got a good education at a public school). But how would requiring homeschool students to meet some kind of minimal state standards keep parents from teaching their kids about Jesus? We live in a state where the only requirement for homeschooling is that the parents tell the state they’re doing it. That’s it, the end, no more questions asked. And those girls (who are in their 20’s and 30’s now) paid for it.

  • For whatever crazy reason parents choose to homeschool, it’s a sad day when people think that their children’s education shouldn’t be more comprehensive than their parents’.

  • aphanes

    We don’t just let theists drive a car because it’s a god’s will that they can or can’t. We expect them to pass a test. We don’t just employ teachers because it’s a god’s will that they are educated to teach or not. We test them and check them. But we do let parents decide what their children will or won’t learn by some god given right to prove their own stupidity?
    “And the state can’t raise children.” No, it can’t raise children, but it can and should put in place the framework for them to get a proficient 21st century education, free of religious myths mystical untruths and legends taught as facts.

  • I’ve been a teacher a long time, and have taught some (secular) homeschooled kids when they entered high school. Most were really strong in language, history, arts and music, but not so good in math and science. We figured it reflected their parents’ skills sets. But these kids were fast learners and motivated (well, with one exception), so they caught up quickly.

    These parents were college-educated and not blinkered by religious dogma. Even so, I began then to wonder if homeschooling should be monitored more closely than it is. Reading these tales of Christian homeschoolers convinces me I am right.

    A democracy depends on a well-educated public. The Founding Fathers knew that. Some of the public is not getting a decent education, and could be.

  • Claudia

    Again and again we go back to the same issue; what matters isn’t the way a child is taught, but what that child actually knows at the end of the day.

    As has already been mentioned plenty of people leave the school systems functionally illiterate and with just the bare ability to add and subtract. Yet no one asks if “being in a school” is the inherent issue. Yet when a homeschooled child has the same problem the very concept of homeschooling is called into question.

    Children, both in school and in homeschool, need monitoring. Their academic achievement should be regularly tested and unbiased adults should have regular access to the children to make sure they are not being abused (kids in school see teachers every day, kids in homeschool are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect going unnoticed). If a child, any child, shows persistent lag in schooling or signs of abuse, immediate remedial action must be taken. Beyond that, it’s none of anyone’s business how they are schooled.

  • anonymouse


    I get the feeling you feel attacked, and I do feel that homeschooling gets a bad reputation, much of it undeserved. I may only speak for myself here, but this article is not attacking homeschooling willy nilly. It is criticizing the fact that no child should be developmentally stunted due to a parent’s religious belief. We don’t have a right to make children remain ignorant to the world and not even able to properly construct a sentence because we don’t want our kids to be exposed to “the worldly things”.

    I do think some kids may thrive better in a homeschool environment. However, the vast majority of homeschooled children DO belong to religious fundamentalist families.

    I think it’s insulting to teachers who had to attend college, and you know..take tests to be teachers, that people think they can do a better job off the bat. I know I certainly couldn’t do it w/o a teacher’s book at least, and I wouldn’t even consider it beyond low grade levels. I believe that religious fundamentalists who homeschool do it to control their children. They don’t want them to know what there is out there to know.

    I do believe there are loving, capable and intelligent homeschool parents out there, and I am certainly not saying our public schools don’t need a huge overhaul.

  • Just want to mention that the assertion that “the vast majority of homeschooled children DO belong to religious fundamentalist families” is not true. Most homeschooling families are Christian, but most aren’t fundamentalist.

    About monitoring, unfortunately, it doesn’t work to keep people from keeping their kids in the dark. Families who want to do this will find a way, no matter how many laws are in place. More laws and requirements just punishes the families who are already doing the right thing, while the families you’re trying to change find another route to get what they want anyway.

    If the issue is religious fundamentalism, trying to indirectly change people’s beliefs through monitoring homeschooling is a very ineffective way to go about it.

    As for abuse, it’s fortunately very, very rare. I would say that homeschooling abuse is about as common as doctors abusing their patients, child protection services yanking kids from families who don’t deserve it, and teachers molesting their students.

    That doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that children are being basically held prisoner by ignorance or abused, but believe it or not, barking up the homeschool monitoring tree is not going to fix the perceived problem. If it did, you’d see a huge difference between states with many requirements to homeschool, and states without. And that isn’t the case.

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