Barely Literate? How Christian Fundamentalist Homeschooling Hurts Kids
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Though I am frustrated by her failure to engage with me, on some level, I understand her irritation. Homeschooling parents are probably called upon to apologize for neglectful homeschoolers quite a bit. But apologies are not what I’m looking for. I want to know about their experiences – positive and negative -- as a way of understanding how to better prevent neglect.
Of course there are parents who are qualified to teach their children at home, and who do an excellent job of it. And there are children who excel in homeschooling environments. These families may well constitute a majority of homeschoolers. But this does not mean that all children do so well, and just as public schools are obligated to educate children who fall behind, so are parents who opt out of the system.
Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, confirms that there are legitimate reasons for being concerned about a lack of oversight among homeschoolers. She acknowledges the diversity of the homeschooling movement, but notes, for example, that, “among the Quiverfull community, there are families that homeschool in such a way that education begins to diverge between boys’ education and girls education around the time they hit puberty.”
Sometimes, Joyce says, girls, “stop receiving the same education as their brothers and are trained instead to fulfill the role that they’re going to have, which is to be a Quiverfull mother and a submissive wife.”
She recalls an anecdote from Quiverfull leader Geoffrey Botkin, who suggested that girls should be taught to use the tools of the laboratory they will inhabit: the kitchen and the nursery. Girls’ education should prioritize “learning how to be mothers, learning in the kitchen, helping their mothers – not merely as chores that are a part of growing up. Rather, the point was that this should be a key part of their education because this was going to be their chief role.” Though Joyce says many homeschoolers go on to do exceptionally well once they go to college, she has also encountered problems with basics like literacy.
Given these sorts of issues, I am unconvinced when Rachel Goldberg, a secular homeschooling mother from Charlotte, North Carolina, echoes what I hear from homeschooling parents of every stripe on the subject of government oversight. “I don't think there should be any regulation of homeschooling,” she says. “I'm not a libertarian or a conspiracy theorist, but I am fiercely protective of my kids and my choices about how to raise them. It's none of the government's business how I teach them. Just as I wouldn't want the state to require me to submit menu plans and quarterly nutritional assessments (even though I believe nutrition is vitally important), I don't want the state to require curricula plans, portfolios, etc.”
According to Joyce, among extremist Quiverfull families (quite unlike Goldberg’s) there is often “a sense of persecution” when it comes to oversight; many families that refuse to report their activities do so because they fear state intrusion. But their fear may have very little basis in fact. “Often, people have to look outside the United States, to countries like Sweden, where homeschooling is much more heavily regulated, to make this argument,” Joyce notes. “There isn’t as much evidence that persecution is happening here, but I think they get a lot of organizing value and activism mobilization out of the argument that they’re persecuted.”
Erika Diegel Martin, whose parents were anti-government extremists, agrees. Her parents did not report their first year of homeschooling to the state out of fear, but because she lived in a small New Hampshire town, the neighbors eventually noticed when the children weren’t in school. Finally, a truancy officer showed up to inquire, and as a result, the family reported their homeschooling status. “Look, any other parents [in] a public school would be charged with truancy if their kids didn’t show up at school,” Diegel Martin points out. “Why should it be any different for a homeschool family that isn’t reporting their children? It’s our government’s responsibility to make sure that our children are getting a proper education.”