Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Talking to Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman About Child Abuse, the Quiverfull Movement and Homeschooling Policy Reform

Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman are co-founders of Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, a site that documents abuse under the cover of homeschooling. Recently, they launched a new organization, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, which raises awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, provides public policy guidance through research, and advocates for responsible home education practices.

How did you two meet?

Rachel Coleman: Heather and I both do academic research on homeschooling, and we were both in a Facebook group that dealt with spiritual abuse and some other negative aspects of conservative Christian homeschooling culture.

Heather Doney: Both of us were eldest daughters of families raised in the Quiverfull movement, where adherents reject birth control and have "as many children as God gives you,” so we had a lot in common: research interests, big family/big sister stuff, an interest in class differences in homeschooling.

How big are your families?

HD: I'm the eldest of 10, six girls and four boys.

RC: I’m the oldest of 12 children, seven girls and five boys.

How did you come up with the idea for Homeschooling's Invisible Children (HIC)?

RC: Heather and I were finding more and more cases of child abuse concealed by homeschooling, and at first I tried keeping a list of links, but I needed a better way to organize them. We decided putting them together in a blog might be a way to do that, while raising awareness at the same time.

You were both homeschooled yourselves, right?

RC: Yes. My parents started homeschooling me because my mom wasn’t sure I could handle all-day kindergarten (I took very long naps), and all-day kindergarten was the only option where we lived. It worked pretty well for our family, so I was homeschooled through high school alongside my siblings.

HD: I was homeschooled, but my education was pretty nonexistent. My family was very poor. We lived in inner-city New Orleans, which had a terrible school district, but my parents' homeschooling was even worse. There was no oversight. I was the only one of us kids to even learn how to read. It was only through an intervention by my grandparents that I gained access to intensive tutoring and started public school in 9th grade.

What do you mean by no oversight?

HD: My parents registered as a private school in Louisiana when I was six, which homeschoolers can do, and no one checked on us again. We never had to take standardized tests or report to anyone.

Is it like that in every state?

RC: 25 states have no assessment mechanism whatsoever. Most of the states that do have some assessment requirements also have loopholes—this is how Heather’s family fell through the cracks. Louisiana’s homeschool law requires parents to either create an annual portfolio of their students’ work or have their children tested each year. However, when parents in Louisiana choose to homeschool under the private school law instead of under the homeschool law, which is perfectly legal, there are no assessments or even subject requirements. Heather’s parents were literally not actually required by law to educate her, and there was no system in place for checking up on her and her siblings’ wellbeing.

Sadly, this lack of accountability is the norm for homeschooling law, not the exception.

Growing up, were you aware of child abuse being an issue in the homeschooling world?

HD: I was aware of child abuse in the abstract. I didn't realize that what was happening to me was abuse, or that some of my friends had homes as dysfunctional as mine. We all put on a good front, I guess. It was only when I was older that I started making the connection, but it didn't fully sink in until I started doing research and ran into survivor blogs that looked like they could have been written by me.

RC: My parents followed the child-training teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl, as did a number of other families in our homeschool community. Even those who didn’t emphasized the importance of applying "the rod" as specified in the Bible. However, my parents were also very kind and loving. I don’t think anything I personally witnessed growing up met the legal definition for child abuse in my state.

HD: My parents read the Pearls’ teachings as well. My parents’ violent discipline methods combined with my mother’s inconsistency made home a scary place. I moved out when I was 17 to escape. I thought I was fine, but I developed delayed-onset PTSD in grad school, had flashbacks to childhood abuse, and started going to therapy.

RC: When it comes to Homeschooling's Invisible Children, our concern is the way abusive parents can use homeschooling to isolate their children and hide their abuse. We’re not saying homeschooling is inherently abusive—it is not—or even that there is a higher rate of abuse in homeschooling circles than elsewhere. We do not have the data to make that comparison. Our concern is that the current lack of accountability and oversight means that homeschooling can be a powerful tool in the hand of an abusive parent—this is the problem HIC is documenting.

How is this connected to the Quiverfull movement?

RC: Parents choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, and an increasing number of parents today homeschool for reasons that have nothing to do with religion. But ever since the 1980s, part of the homeschooling world has been dominated by evangelical and fundamentalist leader seeking to use homeschooling to create a generation of godly young people ready and able to bring about cultural and political change.

HD: The Quiverfull movement grew through homeschooling circles, often connected to churches. The leadership of the Christian homeschooling movement came to be dominated by people with Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy beliefs. They were drawn to homeschooling as a way to shelter their children from secular influences and they believed that outside oversight of how they were educating or raising their offspring was anathema.

Are there any Quiverfull individuals our readers might be familiar with?

HD: Lots of Quiverfull don't call themselves Quiverfull. They just call themselves "bible-believing Christians." It's a name given as descriptor, mostly by outsiders. Beliefs often include home birthing, home business, home remedies, homeschooling, wifely submission, traditional marriage, "having as many children as God gives you," and using harsh corporal punishment on children to save their souls. It's very authoritarian and anti-feminist, based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible that involves a lot of cherry-picking. So when you look at those beliefs, you see that Todd Akin is one. And the Duggars on TLC are like the Kardashians of Quiverfull.

You two were profiled in Kathryn Joyce’s American Prospect article "The Homeschool Apostates." What does that title mean?

HD: Kevin Swanson, a fundamentalist pastor and a pretty big name in the homeschool movement I was raised in, has called former homeschool students like us "apostate homeschoolers." To him we are just complaining, ungrateful, prodigal children.

But: apostasy is leaving a religion. Homeschooling is not a religion. It’s a method of education. People with an agenda have hijacked it and turned it into a tenet of religious faith somehow.

RC: There is an entire subculture of the Christian homeschooling world that is built on fear. Fear of children being corrupted, fear of children leaving the faith, fear of children adopting different values. In some sense, this also goes hand in hand with a powerful religious hope: hope that if parents get it right, their children will grow up to become the “Joshua Generation” that will restore a Christian America. For these homeschool parents, Kevin Swanson among them, homeschooling is not simply an educational option. It is a movement, a tenet, a faith. And we are the apostates.

As a result, when Heather and I and the other former homeschool students talk about the need for basic protections for homeschooled children, we're often treated as traitors to the cause and told to just "get over it" and move on. But I can’t. The children I write up on HIC—Emani Moss, Miranda Crocket, Mitch Comer—they keep me going.

What do you see as the future of homeschooling?

RC: I don't want to sound like I am against homeschooling, because I am most definitely not. I have two children of my own, and if public education doesn’t work out for my children, homeschooling is an option I will consider, alongside other options like charter schools. I think homeschooling is a perfectly valid educational option, and I know from experience that it can go well. I am also not against evangelical and fundamentalist Christians homeschooling, or against providing children with a religious education. I believe that there should be basic safeguards in place to protect the interests of homeschooled children, and that homeschooling should serve the child rather than the child serving homeschooling.

HD: I agree. The best-case scenario for homeschooling is for it to truly become an educational option rather than a political statement. Children are people and should not be used for grandstanding. They deserve access to education methods that make the most sense for them, which is sometimes, but not always, homeschooling.

What has been the reaction of the homeschooling community to HIC?

HD: The dynamic is changing. Initially we both had people, often complete strangers, trying to bite our heads off for mentioning homeschooling and child abuse in the same sentence. It was taboo. But as we have connected and shared our stories, our collective voices have grown, and there has been less ignoring, more listening, and more shock. Along with this is a growing desire in the homeschooling world to prevent abuse from happening. People do not always agree as to how that is best done, but the growing recognition that this is a real issue that needs to be addressed has been very meaningful. We obviously still have a long way to go, but it's a good start.

RC: I wasn’t surprised by homeschool parents arguing that we're giving homeschooling a bad name. I was surprised by the number of emails I have received from former homeschool students telling me that they were abused and are so glad someone is finally putting this out there.

HD: I’ve had emails and phone calls and lunches and late night beer sessions with tears with people who I have met who also experienced this stuff, who used to think they were all alone. I used to think I was all alone. It has been intense and truly meaningful in a way that is hard to express in words.

RC: We also don’t want to single out only Christian homeschoolers, because abuse happens in both secular and religious households. All homeschooling communities need to be on the lookout for abuse.

Why do you think many homeschooling parents feel threatened by HIC?

RC: There was a time when homeschooling was not as socially accepted as it is today, and a time when homeschooling was illegal in some states. I think some homeschool parents fear a return to those days. But I also think that that natural concern is fanned into irrational fear by certain homeschool organizations that act as though homeschooling is about to be banned when anyone says anything insufficiently positive of homeschooling. The trouble is that this inability to accept criticism and this opposition to accountability ends up making these homeschool organizations and all too many homeschool parents look unreasonable.

HD: I think many homeschool parents are afraid that they will be called abusers, or at least suspected to be. There are a lot of homeschoolers with libertarian views who fear that panic over child abuse will result in greater government regulation. I don't see how they can think that not dealing with the facts will make the issue go away.

RC: The things we want are so minimal. We would like to see convicted child abusers and sex offenders barred from homeschooling. We would like to see those who begin homeschooling with open child protective services cases, recent substantiated child abuse or neglect reports, or concerning histories of child protective services involvement receive additional monitoring. We would like to see homeschool children have annual contact with mandatory reporters through portfolio evaluations or standardized testing. We simply want to ensure that every homeschooled child gets a basic education and that homeschooling is not being used to hide abuse. Most states do not have any of these safeguards.

What are some of the most common criticisms you've received?

HD: I've been accused of having an axe to grind, a vendetta against homeschooling. People try to paint me as anti-homeschooling by saying that my experience made me bitter. There's been some criticism that have been gender-based as well. I remember at one point someone online called me a "bimbo." I'd never been called a bimbo before. Other people act like HIC is a comprehensive database and try to prove us wrong by saying that our numbers actually prove that homeschooling has less abuse than the general public. But HIC is not a comprehensive database and is at this point qualitative rather than quantitative. We simply don't have the data to run comparisons yet.

RC: I've had people say that public school kids are abused too, as though that invalidates our concerns or our efforts. These people miss the point. It’s as though they can’t see that homeschooling can be a powerful tool in the hand of an abusive parent, allowing a parent to isolate and abuse a child without worrying about the children being seen by a mandatory reporter like a teacher. Anyone who thinks this doesn’t happen should read about Calista Springer, Nubia Barahona, or Jeanette Maples.

There are certain things parents of children in public school simply cannot do. They cannot starve a child to death, for instance. They cannot lock a child in a room for years, with only a bucket to relieve themselves. Abusive public school parents know that if they send a child to school with too much bruising, it can be noticed and reported. When abusive parents homeschool, that check on their actions completely disappears.

HD: We run into the issue of black and white thinking a lot. Homeschooling is good. Public school is bad. Parents are good. Teachers are bad. Christians are good. Secular people are bad. It gets pretty old.

RC: One thing homeschooling parents who criticize our work don’t seem to realize is that the reluctance to deal with this problem—and the absolute anger at the idea of protections for homeschooled children—actually makes homeschooling look bad. We're not giving homeschooling a bad name. Parents who use homeschooling to abuse are giving homeschooling a bad name. But somehow that distinction gets missed.

Do your families know about HIC? What do they think?

RC: I've discussed HIC with several of my siblings and have had a surprisingly positive response. I’ve talked with my mother as well, and her response was more mixed. She knows that some homeschool families needed accountability, but she had a hard time fathoming that children had actually died of abuse and neglect in homeschooling families.

HD: My family knows about my activism. I don't think they read the cases on HIC, though. It's too triggering and it hits too close to home. Some siblings fear that this work will be traumatizing for me, given my background, and that it has me spending too much time facing the darker side of humanity. I think there’s some truth to that. But Rachel has been a good friend and colleague and I am so glad that we have been able to pool what we know in order to work on this. It has been deeply meaningful.

Rachel Lazerus is a research analyst focusing on education issues. She is currently working with CRHE on an analysis of homeschooling achievement. She lives in Boston.

Photo via Tim Tonjes/Flickr

35 Comments / Post A Comment


This was a really interesting interview. Thanks to both Heather and Rachel for their work.

I would have loved to hear more about their personal stories, especially how Heather went from a pretty much non-existent education to attending grad school. (I'd also like to know if Heather's siblings have learned to read and what it's been like for them.)


this is really great work@v

Nora Cakes@facebook

You can read Heather's blog at http://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/
Good job, ladies. This one is perfectly succinct.


@Nora Cakes@facebook Thanks for sharing the link!

polka dots vs stripes

It must be difficult to be an activist in a sphere that is such a big part of your families' identities; it sounds like Heather and Rachel have good relationships with some of their siblings/parents but I wonder how their work has impacted those relationships (especially given that, from my experience, large families can tend to splinter off just based on personality types, much less activism trying to reform the way you grew up).

Interviews like this make me miss the old Hairpin community, even though I was a limited participant. This was really interesting!


Thank you for posting this! I, too, was homeschooled for a few years, although I'm not sure if it was for religious reasons or just laziness on my parents' part (pretty sure the latter). I started school completely unable to do math and never really caught up because I never received tutoring. I've always regretted it and wish there had been stricter oversight or that some authority had been able to make my parents enroll me in school.


I love this and would also like to hear more!


As one of those homeschoolers that was homeschooled not because of religious reasons but because of hippy "schools are the worst places to educate children, they're places to lock down children's minds and get them to accept busywork and being quiet and showing up at the same time with the same bell every day and not be free spirits, man" ideals, it does sadden me to hear of the abusive, frequently bizarrely religious strains of it. I had such a good time! We slept in all the time and had museum days or just cancelled school when the weather was beautiful or we were too distracted by other things and could make up our own assignments and learn in ways that made sense to us for each kid. We could use all those educational computer games all day if we wanted. You didn't have to read what everyone else wanted to read, or write about what everyone needed to write about, and if your one math book was terrible you didn't have to suffer, you could get a different one. And we knew those Other Homeschooler Families peripherally, sure, any time you went to a public homeschooler event you had the ones who cared more about if their kids only knew kingdom in reference to the Kingdom of Heaven and not from biology, or that cared more if their teenage girls were "pure" rather than knew what a verb was. They are not insignificant population of homeschoolers.
But, no, I can't quite get on board with the standardized testing and portfolios. Everyone I knew who had to take standardized tests as part of public school hated them and hated being held up by them, and eventually when some of them became adults and teachers hated administering them and teaching to the exam. And homeschoolers I knew who had to do portfolios stressed over them "does this demonstrate enough math? Is this grade-appropriate grammar worksheets? Did we document enough hours last month?" which kind of went against their ideals for child-directed learning. So I can't quite get behind that aspect. Otherwise, definitely on board with the other requests and would be interested in how more research goes.


@TenyaLuna: What about if the portfolio wasn't so much requiring parents to meet some sort of "standards" set by the state, but rather a simple breakdown of what had been done during the year that could be evaluated by social workers to ensure that the child is a) actually being educated--even if that education doesn't necessarily correspond with their publicly educated peers and b)that the parent(s) who are involved in educating the child are actually capable of doing so.

I do understand your concerns--heck, my daughter is just starting her career in public schools and I find some of the standards and expectations ridiculous (and our school is lucky in that the curriculum actually include instruction in things like art and music); but I do think their needs to be some basic things that kids should learn and that can be quantified by the state because all children are and should be entitled to an education.


I was homeschooled up until 9th grade in a portfolio/standardized testing state and it was great to have that system in place. My mom is not a certified teacher you know and there were times where classroom experience would have made up for a lot, like lesson plans and supplementary material for textbooks was really lacking. My experience with standardized tests was never bad and it made taking them again in school really easy! I've always been one of those 'good at tests' kind of people, the SATs did not make me nervous at all, and I really credit that to having had to take some form of the SAT from 2nd grade on up.
Plus because of the portfolio, which was really photo heavy from all the 'field trips' we took to museums and cultural sites, my pictures from when I was a kid are really adorably nerdy. There are so many pictures of small me posing in front of historical plaques it's awesome ^_^


@TenyaLuna It sounds like we had a super-similar experience with homeschooling! I would characterize what we did as a mishmash of Montessori/Waldorf/John Holt. (I eventually went to public school, starting in 8th grade, but especially for a young kid, homeschooling can be paradise). But I think it's important to impose some sort of standards because I definitely knew families who were extreme unschoolers...like, "making muffins is the same thing as learning fractions!" Fwiw, my family did the portfolio assessment, which I always remember as being actually a really nice way to look at what we'd accomplished, set some goals for the year, and sit down and talk about it with a caring, supportive adult other than our parents (in my state you had be assessed by a certified teacher, we often did it with a family friend). It was not an imposition at all, although other states may be more stringent, I don't know. And unfortunately "Everyone I knew who had to take standardized tests as part of public school hated them" is not really a good reason to never have homeschoolers take a standardized test...those tests suck for everyone, but if you're going to pursue higher education, you're going to have to be prepared to take SATs, GREs, etc. I agree that they are lousy and don't measure real intelligence, but sadly just about everyone has to contend with them at some point...it's not fair to not prepare homeschoolers for that. Sorry for rambling!


Thanks for writing this and bringing more attention to these issues. I think homeschooling is fascinating -- I've only encountered a couple of homeschooled people in my life but I know there's such a wide array of experiences with it. I never realized how easily it can be used to facilitate abuse but I'm glad you're bringing awareness to it.


I totally agree with you about your views on homeschooling and I think what you are asking for is the absolute *minimum*.
What really bothers me is the views among the people fighting your efforts (I read quite a few of the links, etc) that "I was homeschooled and I'm fine, so what" or that "standardized tests are too harrrrd, so we shouldn't have to do them". I would point out to them: "we are not talking about YOU, stop being selfish, the idea is that some protection needs to be in place for the good of the *majority* of children". I notice that both extreme religious people as well as the liberal nouveau hippy granola types are both exactly alike in that they are totally inflexible and convinced that whatever they think is absolutely right and will not even listen to reason at times. Their political/cultural views are way more important than everyone else's it seems, and both sides seem to take pride in fighting the norm, to the point where the welfare of their children is just incidental.
Is your child too bright, or too slow for public school? Go to a Montessori school then. None in your area and you're convinced that you're such a great teacher for your kids? Then start one yourself, you know with all that hard stuff like filling out paperwork. Is public school low quality or exposing your kids to things you don't want them to see, then send them to a religious school. Why people think the solution is home schooling is beyond me. Even if you're some PhD being the best possible teacher in the entire world, your kids still need to have time outside your sphere, to play with other kids, to learn how to socialize. Like, day in day out, all day at school, not just occasional interaction with the neighbor kids. This is how kids develop.
My strong reaction comes from the fact that my family was very dysfunctional and the thought ever being home schooled and cooped up all day with my abusive mother makes me shudder. As it was,I was subjected to all sorts of very weird and cruel punishments when I brought home my report card, and for 'failing' impossible tasks (this was due to the fact that she had no idea, as is usual with abusive parents, of what is age appropriate. e.g., when you are 5 you shouldn't be expected to cook on stove, you can't innately learn how to ride a bike without training wheels in a cramped garage without someone showing you how, etc). My mother had a sort of limited education herself, so her teaching me would have resulted in me having much less of an education than I received in public school. The emotional and physical abuse that was passed over by my teachers and neighbors was due to the fact that for a lon time we were sort of isolated, not allowed to have people over to the home, always 'out of town', etc and mostly because we were upper middle class white liberal/moderates.
I also know that the isolation of our family caused me to not age appropriately, i.e., I was around adults all the time so I didn't know how to be a kid. I never played with toys until my younger sibling was born. Children need to have contact with kids their own age outside the family. For a mother to say that they can give their kid everything s/he needs socially is delusional.
Both the religious right and the hipster contingent have a frightening amount of mothers who decide that they can do and are experts on everything, from teaching to medicine (no vaccines, no antibiotics for ear infections, etc, wow). I just don't understand it. Other people's kids are everyone's business, if you see kids kept at home, please call child protective to investigate.

Jaime San

There are a ton of us out here who are neither fundies nor hipsters. A lot of us are educated folks who see the public school model as great, but see the opportunities our kids get as homeschoolers as even better.

My kids are 3-5 grade levels ahead in math, 6 -8 years ahead in reading, and you wouldn't believe their elocution skills. We do it all in 3 hours a day of 'work'. The rest of the time? Museums, Soccer with other kids (of all ages), Math Club, Science Team, Debate Team, camping, a state and national level traveling sports team, reading, chess, reading, and just flat out messing around down by the lake.

Our neighbors kids do public school from 7am to 4pm (bus to bus), then have another 2 hrs of homework. In their free time they play video games and nothing else. At school their 'age-appropriate' socialization is the usual unsupervised hazing, bullying, and mean-girls bs that we all remember and hated in middle-school. Learning to navigate The Lord of the Flies culture that is public middle school, or the football-jock culture that is public high school is teaching them exactly what now?

Also, quit being sexist. There are quite a few of us Dads who stay at home while mom works.


Why do you assume the experience of school children is hazing and bullying? Was that your experience? It is not that of every child.
"My kids are 3-5 grade levels ahead in math, 6 -8 years ahead in reading, and you wouldn't believe their elocution skills. We do it all in 3 hours a day of 'work'. The rest of the time? Museums, Soccer with other kids (of all ages), Math Club, Science Team, Debate Team, camping, a state and national level traveling sports team, reading, chess, reading, and just flat out messing around " ---I call bullshit
Just pretending that this is in fact true, what protection do your kids have to make sure that you aren't being abusive and that you are teaching at the level you say you are- are there tests or work they need to submit, does someone come in and check on your kids? That is the point of the article


@MILFofMagnesia Why do you think that your experience is that of every child, then? "My strong reaction comes from the fact that my family was very dysfunctional and the thought ever being home schooled and cooped up all day with my abusive mother makes me shudder." Homeschooling would not have been right for your family. That doesn't mean it's wrong for ALL families.


@MILFofMagnesia I don't. Because of my experience I know it is *possible*, therefore, protections should be in place for these kids. The right of the state to protect little persons trumps the 'inconvenience' of having someone come in to check on what may be a prefectly normal family that homeschools kids.
And I do personally think it is wrong for all families for the other reasons I have mentioned also, not just abuse. The whole point here, is that as she said most states don't have protections and testing in place for home schooled kids


@MILFofMagnesia I don't disagree with regulations or having someone "check in" and make sure that education is actually happening and that abuse is not happening. But telling people whose kids are "too bright or too slow" to go start a Montessori school instead of homeschooling is not at all a realistic option.


@MILFofMagnesia That was actually semisarcasm, to point out the fact that teaching children requires a skill, and education and lots of time. :) But point taken. Actually, several parents in my former city did advocate for a Montessori school, I am not sure how they did it, they were university parents who wanted that option for their kids and they just created the school. When I visited, I liked the idea of that freedom of learning and the fact that all the kids were doing stuff together. There was a good mix of different races and SES which I thought was great too, I am not sure of the details, if it was a tuition based thing and if they had something in place for the poorer kids of the area. I should try to find out more about it.

Tacy Kelly

This was such a lovely, open-minded conversation. I feel both women could be bitter and against homeschooling, but they were so open and fair-minded. "The things we want are so minimal;" that broke my heart. They both sound amazing and should be so proud of their work.

chickpeas akimbo

Fascinating interview. Not sure I've read anything here, or elsewhere, that convinces me that homeschooling should be legal in anything other than extreme circumstances (a family that lives in the literal middle of nowhere being the obvious example) though.

I mean, there is a reason why there are certain qualifications you have to meet to be a teacher. It's an actual learned set of skills, and to think that the average mom and dad can do it without training is just absurd.

(and yes, I recognize that public schools have their problems, some more than others, which is why I'm reluctantly okay with homeschooling, at least in theory.)


This is wonderful! I'm a (very distant) Facebook friend of Rachel's and so I've heard her talk about some of this stuff before, but it's so cool to read it here.

But like some of the other commenters, I wonder if they're asking too little. Teachers in public and private schools need to have certain credentials and certifications; homeschooling parents don't. Why not? Is it important for teachers to be trained as teachers, or not? OTOH, a lot of homeschooled parents teach their kids just fine; some don't, but the difference between the good and bad ones probably isn't a teaching certification.

Also, one of the most popular arguments against homeschooling - and I'm not sure how much water this holds - is that children don't learn social skills if they are homeschooled and not regularly interacting with children outside their own families. Most formerly homeschooled kids I know say they did get some interaction through homeschooling group activities, church, etc. but usually not on an everyday basis. I haven't seen any clinching evidence that homeschooled kids are at a disadvantage socially, once they enter the "real world," but it's hard to find good studies, since the Google searches tend to return homeschooling advocacy or how-to websites.

Do Heather and Rachel know of any research on homeschooled kids' social skills? Since they want annual monitors for homeschooled kids, would they want these monitors to check on the children's social exposure and development as well as their academic lives?


@discombobulated interesting point. Part of healthy child development is being around other kids and learning how to deal with conflict, make friendships, etc etc. Part of unhealthy child development is being enmeshed with a parent, where the parent can't separate their needs/wants from the child's. I know some parents that use their child for their own social interaction, hanging out with them all day long, as if they were a tiny adult, instead of the parent themself interacting with people their own age, and letting the kid do kid stuff. People can always play or do supplementary work with their kids after school...also I visited a Montessori school once and they are fabulous, the kids learn at their own pace and pick their own assignments but are taught/guided by professionals..


@discombobulated People are definitely doing research on homeschooling and socialization. You can get a sense of what's available with a quick google scholar search


This is so interesting -- I just responded to an acquaintance on Facebook who homeschools her two children. She'd posted this article about a German family that applied for asylum in the U.S. to homeschool their 8 children (Germany apparently bars homeschooling entirely):


Her take was that this was evidence of the existential threat to homeschooling everywhere. I pointed out that the family weren't denied asylum because they were homeschoolers, but because their case didn't meet the legal threshold for asylum. She wrote back to agree, but I had no idea that some homeschooling families feel so threatened.

That said, I feel that there should absolutely be some checks on homeschooled children. While there were always one or two in every admitted class at my competitive college, I've also tutored a fair share of kids that had been homeschooled for a couple of years by well-meaning parents and were consequently far behind the rest of their grade. Good intentions don't equal expertise, particularly if your child has problems with a particular field!

Charlsie Kate

I work for SSA in disability, and homeschooling is an area that I find very concerning. The two scenarios are either 1. A parent claims they are disabled, and cannot work, however, they are homeschooling three kids. or 2. Parents claim their child is disabled because of social problems, low test scores, overactive imagination, and anxiety. The child has been homeschooled for many years, lives in rural nowhere, and has no contact with the outside world except church activities. Home schooling "records" from the local bible homeschool center document the claimant has an A average.

Does the fact you'd rather stay home and homeschool your kids mean you should get disability? If you are actually disabled, is it possible for you to adequately educate your children at home?
Does the fact that a child is possibily not actually receiving an education and is therefore behind her peers mean she is disabled?
These are things I think about.

Faith Louise Martin@facebook

This is a really great and insigntful interview, thank you. I was not homeschooled, but I know people who were, and I feel that a lot of them have suffered social developmental issues from it. It's like they're either very socially awkward, or very ornery. I believe this comes from a lack of social experience with peers. I, of course, am not trying to say that every homeschooled child comes out this way, but just observing what I've seen. I think that if you are to homeschool your child, you should be offering them social activities on the daily with other children, and not sheltering them too much from the outside world.
For example, I knew a girl who was homeschooled because she says she was bullied in grade school (not sure why) and her parents wanted to protect her from that. Unfortunately, most of us are bullied at some point, or bully other children, and we deal with those situations appropriately. Learning to deal with conflict as a kid is very helpful in the development of doing the same as an adult. This girl became waspish, selfish, and at the same time seemed to struggle with social concepts that most of us take for granted, like knowing how to dress appropriately for certain situations. I have sympathy for her, as she wasn't able to gain the experience she needed to develop to the best of her ability.


I must admit, when I was in grade school (I went to public school for all but two years of my 12 year education...the other two were spent in a parochial school), we considered homeschooled kids very "other." That is to say, we automatically thought they were weird. Probably none of my friends actually *knew* a kid that was homeschooled, but there was something so very different about it that made us feel superior. I see now how idiotic I was.

As a children's librarian at a public library, I can honestly say that the kids who are the least shy, the most helpful, and the most willing to participate in programming are almost always homeschooled. They are able to ask for what they want (or ask about how to find something out themselves). I find them to be very independent, but in a really great way. It's how I imagine kids who grew up 100 years ago acted--a little bit "older" for their age, not so screamy/entitled/bratty/brash like some of their school-going peers. Of course, I'm making a blanket statement here. There are LOTS of awesome school-goers, and a few weird/awkward homeschoolers, but on the whole, my experience with homeschooled kids has been extremely positive.

I do believe that minimum regulations should be a MUST (children should learn how to read, for example), but I see why some homeschooling parents might bristle a little at lots of oversight--avoiding "teaching to the test" might be the reason they homeschool, after all. What a complex, highly nuanced issue, especially when there are SO MANY reasons to homeschool (or not). Great interview, Hairpin. I agree: I miss seeing more stuff like this.


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Re: social skills — I knew a lot of homeschooled kids growing up (the granola set, not the religious set). Some came out with good interpersonal skills, primarily based on the parents' own social skills and the priority they placed on socialization. Other kids ended up growing into difficult adults. But I do think that we should be careful not to skew our statistics with the kids who were pulled out of the school system specifically because they were having social or behavioral problems. There's a cause-and-effect muddling going on there.

So I've seen kids who did spectacularly well both socially and academically, but also a few kids who were "unschooled" and learned to read super late. I'm not against homeschooling as a concept in most cases, but I wholeheartedly agree with the need for significant oversight. And the abuse-concealment issue hadn't even occurred to me, I'm sorry to say, but it makes a lot of sense.


Ugh I have a friend who is into the fundamentalist, homeschooling, Michael and Debi Pearl-following lifestyle. They have 6 biological children and one adopted from China. They would probably be obsessed with the Duggars-if they had a television. The girls wear long skirts and scarves on their heads, and go swimming in bathing dresses that look like they're from 1910. The boys of course just dress normally. I am not exactly sure how someone who did average work in high school and only has her diploma can adequately prepare her (boys) for college. I am a Christian and when I had my daughter and made the decision to be a stay at home mom, this friend sent me several of the Pearl's books on kids and marriage-I guess she thought I was a kindred spirit. Reading through them, I became increasingly irritated and horrified by their views. Besides advocating corporal punishment, the Pearls place the responsibility of the male sexual response squarely on the woman's shoulders. A man has impure thoughts? It's your fault for wearing that outfit. Your man cheated on you? It's your fault for not pleasing him sexually often enough. I kept those books for a long time because I am programmed not to throw books away, but I couldn't bear to give them away or sell them, thus putting that thinking out there for someone else to read. I did finally throw them out.


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