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Barely Literate? How Christian Fundamentalist Homeschooling Hurts Kids

The Religious Right touts homeschooling as the "responsible" educational choice. But what about the kids whose parents opt-out of the system -- and out of educating them, as well?

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I follow up to find out if anyone has reported the family to social services. She says they have been reported, but very little has changed. 

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Still, this is not to say there aren’t many homeschooling parents who are doing an excellent job of ensuring that their children receive a quality education. Most parents realize they are taking on a tremendous amount of responsibility when they commit to homeschooling a child, so I am not surprised to find many – secular and religious – who are doing well by their children. 

Maria Hoffman Goeller is one of those. A lifelong family friend, Goeller is a homeschool graduate raised in a conservative Christian home, where she never lagged behind in academics. Now she has a son with special needs in the California public school system but educates two other school-age children at home. “Part of the reason we homeschool is because I’m choosing what worldview or what subjects I want to introduce my child to,” she says. But she understand the limits of her own skill, which is why she placed her special-needs son in public school. “While I can teach my children reading, writing and arithmetic, I am not trained in special education,” she says. “I want my child to have the best education he can get, which at this time is public school.”

Though she considers herself conservative, Goeller does not demonize public schools as some families do. And contrary to stereotypes about Christian homeschoolers, Goeller is adamant that she will not sacrifice academic rigor, or shield her children from views different from her own. In fact, she says she would welcome more opportunities for them to interact with public school students, for example, in sports and even in certain classes now and then. 

Certainly, Goeller is not alone in the care and thoughtfulness she takes with her children’s homeschool education. But in light of what Garrison, Diegel Martin and Palmer tell me, it seems irresponsible to assert, as many homeschooling parents do, that homeschooling neglect is just a fringe element in the homeschooling world. And getting a straight answer about the scope of the problem from people who champion the cause is difficult at best. 

Take Kelly Hogaboom, a secular “unschooling” mother who maintains a popular homeschooling blog called Underbellie, and boasts of having “two terminally truant children.” Hogaboom is an advocate for homeschooling and “unschooling,” a type of homeschooling that often foregoes curriculum in favor of more child-directed education. She is dismissive of the cases of neglect that I bring up, saying, by way of shutting down my inquiries: “Like yourself, I too had…a deep fear of religious fundamentalism and an erroneous belief state institutions could and should stamp it out.” 

Of course, her response misses the mark; the issue of “stamping out” religious expression isn’t the point here. The issue at stake is educational neglect -- which is, as the anecdotal evidence shows, an actual problem. My hope is that by looking to homeschooling parents for insights, they will be able to provide an honest assessment of their own successes and failures -- in order to paint a more textured picture of the actual potential for neglect.

But in the end, Hogaboom declines to discuss the topic at all, urging me instead to read alternative theories of education she thinks I may have missed. And just in case I don’t understand that she has dismissed the concerns I raise, she concludes our email discussion by saying: “I get a laugh [at] how many grownups enjoy talking amongst themselves about what's best for children” – and following it up with a smiley emoticon. 

 
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