Saturday, January 3, 2015

Beware: Fundamentalism in Homeschooling

It may surprise you, but I'm out of the homeschool loop as represented by homeschooling conventions, which are not only about school curriculum, but increasingly about parenting and lifestyle teachings, some of which are radical. I've never been to a conference and haven't felt the need, given the extensive research you can do online about any curriculum.

From my recent research, I know that certain things have been prominent at the homeschool conference circuit over the years. For example, Patriarchy. The evangelical movement known as patriarchy = extremism. Examples of their rhetoric include: men have all the power in the family; wives should not vote so as not to negate their husband's vote; adult daughters should stay with their parents until they marry; girls shouldn't attend college because it's a waste of money (since they're going to be wives and mothers anyway); and finally, that all women should endeavor to have a quiverfull of children.

While some of this may be beneficial in some ways for some families, these all represent lifestyle choices, not scriptural mandates.

Big families certainly are a blessing--I won't deny that. I would love to have had more children myself. Parenting helps our faith and maturity grow as we deny ourselves for the sake of our children's legitimate needs. However, it isn't biblical to hint that one is less spiritual without a large family.

First, the Lord doesn't promise children or motherhood, or even marriage. Second, sometimes the health of the parents or the living children make it difficult to keep having children. Most days since my son's concussion last August, which seems to have worsened his OCD, and since the onset of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my oldest daughter, I feel like I'm swimming in a mental illness mess. The days stretch me incredibly. They're hard and poignant, both.  I do have faith that God provides sufficient grace to handle many children, but still, without extended family support, large families are a handful.

Biblical Patriarchy came into vogue with fringe homeschoolers and fundamentalist evangelicals, based upon the teachings of the Vision Forum, as well as No Greater Joy Ministries, which features the Pearls and their dangerous parenting book To Train Up a Child (some parents have abused their children to death while following this pro-corporal punishment book), and another entity I only learned about yesterday--Bill Gothard and his multi-million dollar empire comprising Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) (homeschooling curriculum) and the Institute in Basic Life Principals (IBLP). (I'm not philosophically opposed to spanking, btw, just cautious of it. Even James Dobson states it doesn't work with strong-willed children.)

The Duggar family uses both of these Gothard resources (and some Duggar girls worked for them at their retreats), and Josh Duggar's brother-in-law works for Gothard's company. The Duggars had a close relationship with Vision Forum as well. Love them or hate them, the Duggars identify with the Quiverfull and Patriarchy movements, at least by association. I've never seen their reality show, but on their website they still feature Gothard's resources under "homeschool resources".

2014 rocked with scandals regarding the movement.  I remained in the dark until yesterday, which is probably a good thing for my heart and nerves. I learned about the serious issues and remain depressed today, despite never having used or followed any of these curriculums or parenting philosophies.

I fear that if homeschooling continues to be associated with these fringe groups, then the liberal NEA (teacher's union) will have more fuel for their anti-homeschool rhetoric and lobbying. Homeschooling is a fast-growing movement, encompassing secular and religious families across American and overseas as well, and it's a perceived threat in NEA minds. I put my faith in God, but I also recognize the massive power and influence the NEA enjoys.

I'm about to highlight some things to be aware of as you peruse online materials for discipleship or as homeschool material. Trigger alert for those who've been victims of abuse and suffer from PTSD. I don't give specific details, but you possibly shouldn't read on.

First Scandal - Bill Gothard

Bill Gothard had 30+ women/teens come forward claiming he sexually harassed them, encompassing many years of his ministry (ministry started in 1961; he is 79 now). In the past he resigned twice before due to similar scandals, but both times he went back to the helm a short time later. He resigned again this year, due to harassment allegations involving teenagers and young women, but an "independent" review found that though he lacked judgement in this behavior, he didn't do anything illegal. Most likely, he'll be back at the helm in the future. Recovering Grace is a ministry dedicated to helping victims of Gothard's abuse of spiritual power and twisted-scripture teachings. The teachings may not all be poor, but they're certainly a stretch of biblical truth (there are cult-like characteristics). The Recovering Grace website linked above gives details, as well as this alumni homeschool site, which is secular and neutral.

Second Scandal - Vision Forum

The man behind Vision Forum, Doug Phillips, harassed and was sexually involved with a nanny who worked for him and lived and traveled with his family. He admitted to wrongdoing and resigned, and Vision Forum Ministries dissolved late 2013, and the for-profit branch in early 2014, but I searched for and found Vision Forum materials on, just today.

Third Scandal - The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

The family behind The Old Schoolhouse Magazine has a son who allegedly sexually abused some of his siblings and a cousin. This family is also accused of physically abusing all their children. At the time he abused the cousin, he, the perpetrator, was 14 years old, and the victim was 6 years old. That was in 2007. The cousin's family alleged that the Schoolhouse Magazine family apologized for their son's behavior, admitted it was grievous sin, and indicated they would step down from leadership and the speaking circuit in regards to their role at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. They never did step down, and apparently they presented around the homeschool convention circuit without pause over the years, even bringing their troubled teen with them, and staying in the homes of homeschool families who hosted them, without disclosure of their son's past behavior.

The mother of the victim has tried over the years to persuade the family to give full disclosure, but it hasn't happened. Instead, they ostracized this mother, accusing her of gossip and unscriptural behavior. A biased mediator was called in but still the dispute remains ongoing. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association was called upon to get involved, but after ignoring the victim's mother's emails, their response in emails to concerned Facebook inquirers stated they don't get involved in personal disputes, and that their role remains that of defending the freedom to homeschool across America for all families, either religious or secular, and that they will not function as a police force for the homeschool community. (I don't disagree with their statement necessarily, but think it rude and insensitive not to have responded to the victim's mother in some way. Children should be protected, period, and they shouldn't have dismissed this mother in this way.)

HSLDA continues to be a sponsor of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which really bothers me, even though I'm not a member of HSLDA myself.

I found some vague reference to law enforcement being called in regarding the abuse of the cousin. The teen perpetrator apparently went to several counseling sessions afterwards, but because he was a minor, nothing more was done that I know of. I cannot confirm law enforcement involvement as I can't remember at which link I found the information. The teen's behavior is a definite red flag, as studies show people do not reform well from sexual perversion. Perpetrators can prey on as many as 100 children before they're caught.

Churches and religious groups are often considered safe havens by perpetrators, so always choose your children's church events wisely, and make sure there's plenty of oversight, including plenty of female oversite (preferred over married couples being together in children's ministry, who don't have to testify against each other). Volunteer yourself if you can, especially for overnight events.

My personal stance as a mother: We don't ever allow our children to go to other children's homes, except briefly outdoors where we can see them. We also never leave them with our friends or acquaintances. I have one aunt who helps in emergencies. This is extreme caution, but in our society we feel it's prudent. We're also very careful never to be alone with any neighborhood children, and when I'm gone they aren't allowed to play here with my husband as the only adult, to avoid false accusations and any suggestion of impropriety. I believe no parent should assume any teen or adult is safe with their children. Even uncles can be suspect. Even if teen boys don't have any sexual disorders, they may still be prone to sexual experimentation and shouldn't be trusted (especially those who've grown up with unlimited media access and could be involved in porn).

Yes, call me paranoid.

Role of Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association did post a warning about the teachings of Gothard and Phillips, pointing out their fall from grace this year due to scandals, and teaching that the patriarchal stance of these men is unscriptural and could lead to homeschool freedom challenges, if too closely associated with homeschoolers as a whole. They apologized for not speaking up sooner, and apologized for allowing Vision Forum to purchase ad space at their site. I hope they are more diligent in pointing out cult-like ministries in the future.

The Bottom Line

Beware of false teachers, period. Beware of ministries in which one man has too much power, and beware of beloved men with too much power (think Bill Cosby). Power always carriers the risk of corruption. Let the Bible be your guide above all. And something for all of us opinion-spouting bloggers to be aware of, is that when we give a spiritual opinion, we need to clarify it as opinion, rather than biblical Truth. I will certainly be watching that in the future as I write. The problem with these cult-like ministries is that they presented their teachings as Truth, not as opinion.

My freedom to homeschool is very important to me. I would be so grieved if I ever had to put my kids in school, for a variety of reasons. I vow to keep an eye on the climate from now on and give caution when necessary, in the interest of all homeschoolers.


Unknown said...

We loved vision forum and I was sad when I found out about Doug Phillips fall. I have many of their products and CDs the only real pause I ever had concerning them was when I listened to his sermon on miscariage And stillbirth. Some things he said in it disturbed my husband we stopped supporting them by buying through their catalog. I still belive that a lot of their teaching are good they just went to extreme. I actually truly belive in family intergrated is just difficult when your ministering to peopel from the world as their children are not accustomed to sitting in church. As for the homeschool movement I feel like they are a very small percent. Where I live in LA most homeschoolers are anti religion and are know as secular homeschoolers. They by far make up the majority where I live which is sad and difficult for us. I did read the article you linked to and can see the point that is being made.

Christine said...

I like the idea of family integrated worship too. We don't have such a church here. I am sure some of his work/writings was beneficial to families. I am sorry his teaching hurt while you were dealing with the most grief over Jonathan's passing, Tesha.

Other parts of the country have more religious homeschoolers than Southern CA, perhaps, but in the last 10 years, as bullying has become more rampant, and because schools can't adequately serve the highest students, the lowest, and those with learning disabilities, homeschooling has grown in both religious and secular populations. In our area it seems equal. Where I lived in CA ten years ago, the religious population in the High Desert was higher than the secular. The High Desert is the other side of Big Bear Mountain, but still San Bernardino County--about three hours from Vegas. I read once that San Bernardino County has a high evangelical population, compared to other CA counties.

Christine said...

I meant the religious population of homeschoolers where I used to live--not the population in general.

And to correct subject/verb agreement in my first comment should be: I am sure some of his work/writings were beneficial, not was beneficial. Sorry.