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!)