The Homeschooled Christians Who Escaped December 8, 2013

The Homeschooled Christians Who Escaped

Kathryn Joyce, whose muckraking books about abuses within fundamentalist Christian circles are as frightening as they are illuminating, takes us inside the world of “The Homeschool Apostates” in the latest issue of American Prospect.

She profiles two daughters who broke free from their prison-warden-like parents:

The family’s isolation made it worse. The children couldn’t date — that was a given — but they also weren’t allowed to develop friendships. Between ages 10 and 12, Lauren says she only got to see friends once a week at Sunday school, increasing to twice a week in her teens when her parents let her participate in mock trial, a popular activity for Christian homeschoolers. Their parents wanted them naïve and sheltered, Lauren says: “18 going on 12.”

Her sister Jennifer had it worse. She was vegan, which pissed off her parents (because, you know, the Bible says God made animals so we could eat them).

Lauren and Jennifer eventually got away from their parents, thanks in part to a network of other former-homeschooled kids called Homeschoolers Anonymous.

Homeschooling leaders had dubbed them the “Joshua Generation.” Just as Joshua completed Moses’s mission by slaughtering the inhabitants of the Promised Land, “GenJ” would carry the fundamentalist banner forward and redeem America as a Christian nation. But now, instead, the children were revolting.

The story is strangely uplifting. It suggests that there’s a way out for the upwards of 2,000,000 kids who are homeschooled in ways that border on abuse. But it takes a lot of bravery to get out from parents who go well beyond overprotective. Remember what Lauren Drain had to go through when she (and a few of her siblings) left Westboro Baptist Church? They had virtually no contact to their siblings even though it was their parents they were trying to get away from. It’s not easy to leave, but there’s a better life awaiting them if they do.

The best part of Joyce’s story involves the unexpected way kids are learning to break the spell of the fundamentalist lifestyle. It’s the debate skills that schools like Patrick Henry College pride themselves on teaching young Christians:

For Ryan Stollar and many other ex-homeschoolers, debate club changed everything. The lessons in critical thinking, he says, undermined Farris’s dream of creating thousands of eloquent new advocates for the homeschooling cause. “You can’t do debate unless you teach people how to look at different sides of an issue, to research all the different arguments that could be made for and against something,” Stollar says. “And so all of a sudden, debate as a way to create culture-war soldiers backfires. They go into this being well trained, they start questioning something neutral like energy policy, but it doesn’t stop there. They start questioning everything.

It’s hardly a joke that teachings kids to expose themselves to alternative perspectives will help them realize how warped and isolated their own lives are. Once you’ve been exposed to a bit of free, it’s hard not to want more of it.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Richard for the link!)

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  • Timothy McLean

    That reminds me of a quote I read on parenting..
    Paraphrased, it says that you’re only ready for a kid when you are thinking in terms of “How will I not screw up this kid’s life?” instead of “How will this kid not screw up my life?”

    When Cracked.com knows more about parenting than you, you are a terrible parent.

  • MyFriend

    I was homeschooled in a very fundamentalist Christian household. So were most of my friends. My mom worked hard to ensure that we had a good education, but it was within the framework of her beliefs. Thus, evolution was a lie, dinosaurs and men walked the earth together (an appealing idea to a kid), Christianity is the cause of all good throughout history, non-Christianity the source of evil, etc. And that was a lot better than most of my friends, whose parents didn’t give a flip about education…just indoctrination.

    My parents’ big “problem” was that they insisted on obsessive Bible study. Guess what? There’s all sorts of shit in there that makes no damned sense/is hideously cruel/etc. The seeds of, I don’t want to say, doubt, but mental conflict were planted early. As I grew older and I started to understand more fully the lack of logic, it all fell apart. And I got a real education, in a secular, state university. I’m one of six. I’d classify two of my brothers as committed, compassionate religious people, one a religious opportunist, and the other an obsessive religious fanatic. My sister is the only one who feels pretty much the same (she identifies as agnostic, whereas I’m an atheist). Most of my friends are no longer my friends, because they are as indoctrinated as they ever were, and I’m now an infidel.