When it comes to politics, the children of old-school evangelicals are undergoing a shift. We have yet to convince our parents we are not rejecting what they have taught us but living it out in a different way.  –Alisa Harris, Raised Right page 6.

Homeschooler’s Anonymous Logo

Ah, to be a millennial evangelical.  We live in a time where the relationship between the church, politics, and the culture wars are shifting; where young Christians are reflecting, growing, changing, and becoming something different altogether. Many of us are trying to figure out what this all means.   But the issue is that the conversation is very one-sided. Those who have been hurt by such efforts are not getting the opportunity to be heard.

A year-old grassroots movement known as Homeschoolers Anonymous is starting to face this problem. This originally started out as a small blog, started by Ryan Stollar and Nicholas Ducote, two homeschool debate champions. The blog started out just gathering and telling stories of people who had been homeschooled, and their difficulties therein. The difficulties ranged from spiritual and physical abuse, to overbearing expectations, and even cases of familial disownment after coming out as an atheist or as a bisexual.

But the blog became more.  Around July 2013, Ryan and his fellow friends founded Homeschoolers Alumni Reaching Out, a parent organization so that HA could become more than a blog. A small community began to build, a community that desired to help the individuals escape harmful environments and develop normal and healthy lives. It eventually attracted the attention of Kathryn Joyce, a journalist and author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, who wrote a long-form feature on the movement. That article attracted the attention of dozens of leaders who would themselves promote these stories, including the most unlikely trio of Richard Dawkins, Dan Savage, and Phil Vischer.

HA may seem to some as though it is antagonistic towards the homeschooling lifestyle. But its leaders are very open about their opinion on the homeschooling method:

“We believe that homeschooling is a powerful, useful tool. It represents a democratic approach to educational progress, innovation, and creativity. It allows a child’s learning environment to be tailored to individual and personal needs. When homeschooling is done responsibly, it can be amazing. What we oppose is irresponsible homeschooling, where the educational method is used to create or hide abuse, isolation, and neglect.”

HA is a small movement among a few controversial sects that seek national reform to aid those being punished.  But it is only a few men and women, fighting for the rights of a precious few. It may not seem as though it will affect the national scene of Christianity. But HA promotes a model of conversation that evangelicalism could do well to learn from: the emphasis on stories.

Stories are at the core of every movement. Each person who is involved in something—whether it be Christianity or nihilism or the Biblical patriarchy movement—has a story. Some people actually do respond positively to patriarchy, but others are harmed.  What can account for the difference between the two? It could be parental relationships. It could be an ideological difference. It could be any number of things. But if a movement is causing both emotional and physical pain to several individuals, it poses a problem that needs to be addressed.

What HA does so well is show that certain movements and leaders have caused harm and taught false and un-Biblical ideas in order to push a particular ideology. While the actual stats may not exist as to who was harmed, the sheer quantity of the stories here, as well as at sites like Recovering Grace and Jen’s Gems, reveals patterns that cannot and should not be ignored.

These are just one pattern of the consequences of well-intentioned “Biblical” ideas. But HA does far more; it reveals the stories of those harmed by certain ideas.

Consider the movement known to most young Evangelicals as “The Rebelution. I was about 15-16 when I heard about these movements of “Teens doing Hard Things.” I was inspired. I fell in love with the Rebelution and grew as an individual. As I matured in my theology and saw that not everything I had been taught in the Rebelution was true, I still thought the idea was brilliant.

Source: Charlottesheart.com

It wasn’t until years later, though, that I discovered that some were harmed by the Rebelution, and that many came to regret their involvement in the project. Kiery King (also known as Kiery Paulino back then) is a friend of mine who was once really involved in the Rebelution community, but has now since abandoned them. Why? Because the ideas themselves were used to control her in her already harmful home, pushing an impossible agenda on a child who could never be ready for such things.

It was then that it hit me; while Alex and Brett Harris never intended harm in their notions in the Rebelution, harm was still caused.  Their ideas still had consequences: abusive situations could be fortified by the parents; harmful notions of gender roles, purity, and modesty were instantiated as eternal Christian truths.

So, then, what should we do? How do we respond when a problematic ideology arises, especially in the church? First, we listen to its victims. They are often the first and best, often the only place we can start to understand what went wrong. The church needs to help them where they are, and work to help others avoid this same problem. In the case of avoiding homeschool abuse, it might include advocating for laws which help track and regulate the education that students receive. In the case of the Rebelution, it might be just Alex and Brett recognizing that what they were doing sounded impossible, and attempting to heal the wounds that the Rebelution has caused.

I am thankful to Ryan, Nicholas, and the Homeschoolers Anonymous crew for sharing its stories. They have helped me to recognize that every idea we have, even the Biblical ones, can have harmful consequences. With their continued work, many others can now do the same—and time will tell how well the Evangelical church will respond.

About The Author

Christopher Hutton

Christopher Hutton is a Freelance Journalist covering topics of Religion, Pop Culture, and Philosophy in society. He currently writes about exploring the world of Worldview Studies at Liter8.net (Chris is @liter8media on Twitter).

19 Responses to Homeschoolers Anonymous and Evangelical Response

  1. Matthew Loftus says:

    Few thoughts:

    1) The kiery King link is broken.

    2) You don’t talk much about the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, which I feel is an important omission since CRHE is HA’s main policy group. As far as I can tell, none of the board members of CRHE have any background in social work or child protection (I did point this out to them on twitter and they responded graciously that they were working on it.) Perhaps you weren’t trying to talk about policy in this article, but since that’s where HA is trying to take their focus, I think it’s worthwhile to constructively critique what they’re trying to do.

    3) As compelling as the individual stories of homeschoolers who have been abused are (and as important as the general need for more consistent oversight is), there is not really any data quantifying the extent of abuse or educational neglect. The fact that HA/CRHE has already put out significant policy recommendations based only on anecdotal data without any actual plans for research on the subject does not strike me as a wise move.

    4) Last point’s a bit nitpicky, but “Those who have been hurt by such efforts are not getting the opportunity to be heard”? Maybe not in the pages of the HSLDA newsletter. But when Elizabeth Esther is on the BBC, I don’t think this is really true.

    • Lana says:

      BTW, CHRE does have plans to get data. It will take money and time, but they must certainly want to go this direction.

    • Guest says:

      Thanks for reading, Matt.

      1. Sorry about that: Here’s the link: http://kieryking.com/2013/03/silence-isnt-golden/

      2. You’re right that CRHE isn’t brought up. It isn’t that it doesn’t matter, but it is irrelevant to the conversation. My point here is that the stories of these people are what need to be engaged with. And I think HA, as a blog, does this extremely well. But I am mainly engaging with the blog.

      3. Yes, no data exists, but this is because no policies or practices exist which allow for verifiable date to be collected. And policies must be encouraged for the data to be collected.

      4. While Elizabeth Ester may be a notable case for the conversation, the issue was still swept away from the mainstream media. It wasn’t until Kathryn Joyce chose to publish her piece that this conversation really escalated. We saw that abused homeschoolers was more that a minor minority; but an actual notable group of people; a group that needed precautions to be taken in order to be served well.

      Though, which piece are your referring to that critiques this issue of resentment?

      • 2. I think the people telling these stories would like our listening/engaging to translate into policy (see CRHE’s tweets from today!)

        3. Not true. Researchers conduct plenty of studies outside of officially collected statistics. It’s just harder, usually.

        4. Um, “swept away from the mainstream media” implies that the story was somehow suppressed. I’d like to see that claim substantiated (don’t forget there was a Daily Beast piece, too!) Phrases like “minor minority” and “actual notable group” are not meaningful in epidemiology or public health. The stories that Joyce publicized are indeed important, but they are still anecdotal data and thus they are only slightly more meaningful than publishing a story about former homeschoolers who now all have graduate degrees and are doing great things.

        Here’s David’s piece: http://www.patrolmag.com/2012/05/16/david-sessions/the-mythical-land-beyond-the-culture-wars/

    • 1. Sorry about that: Here’s the link: http://kieryking.com/2013/03/s

      2. You’re right that CRHE isn’t brought up. It isn’t that it doesn’t matter, but it is irrelevant to the conversation. My point here is that the stories of these people are what need to be engaged with. And I think HA, as a blog, does this extremely well. CRHE is important, but it is a project I am less involved with, and is still slowly growing.

      3. Yes, no data exists, but this is because no policies or practices exist which allow for verifiable date to be collected. And policies must be encouraged for the data to be collected. But even if data isn’t relevant, do we just forget these individuals in horrible situations? I think something should be done, even if it isn’t a policy put into practice.

      4. While Elizabeth Esther may be a notable case for the conversation, the issue ca still be swept away from the mainstream media. It wasn’t until Kathryn Joyce chose to publish her piece that this conversation really escalated. We saw that abused homeschoolers was more that a minor minority; but an actual notable group of people; a group that needed precautions to be taken in order to be served well.

      Though, which piece are you referring to that critiques this issue of resentment?

    • Rachel Lazerus says:

      Hi Matthew — as Director of Operations for the Coalition of Responsible Home Education, I am incredibly happy to see you bringing attention to our organization (which you can visit at http://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org), but I want to clear up a few things:

      1) CRHE is not the policy arm or group for HA. HA and CRHE are separate organizations. We share a few members in common (Ryan Stollar is a founding board member of CRHE) and are part of the same community, but the organizations are separate and do not represent each other.

      2) While several members of CRHE do have a background in child protection (our Tweeter was unaware of that we have a board member with a background in child protection law; I personally am not a board member but I have a Masters in public policy and I specialized in child and educational policy), while creating our policy recommendations, we have spoken with and incorporated the feedback of social workers, professors on education and law, public policy activists, lawyers, teachers, and homeschooling parents, as well as both former and current homeschooled students. We asked experts in each field to look over each area: our social work page, for example, has been extensively critiqued and approved by multiple social workers who work with homeschooled kids.

      We are not pulling any of our recommendations out of thin air, and our advice on child abuse and child protections is based off of best practices in the field. If you have any criticisms of this, then please feel free to email us at info[at]responsiblehomeschooling.org and we will get back to you.

      3) We definitely plan on doing original research studies in the future — we mention this briefly in our FAQs. We have also been doing literature reviews of the available data. Much of the research on homeschooling has not been linked to educational neglect or abuse, as much of the available research is ideologically driven. At the same time, doing a quick’n’dirty survey of adult homeschoolers is problematic because of response bias. We need to do it right, which means it’ll take some time and planning — and will probably need to be a mix of both qualitative and quantitative data together, as sticking to one or the other misses a large chunk of the story. .

      We have at least two academic papers in the works right now using unbiased sources of publicly-available data from states that require standardized testing of homeschooling students, and we are currently planning several large-scale research studies that we hope to launch in the next year or two. If you would like to donate to us approximately $15,000 so we can get started, then we would be most grateful for your help! (We will soon be 501(c)3 certified, so you may want to hold off on that donation for now.)

      Thanks again for your thoughtful critiques. I must admit, as much as I like getting publicty for CRHE, Chris Hutton is right — our group’s mission is a bit irrelevant to the point he’s trying to make, as we’re different kinds of advocates for people at different stages of understanding abuse in homeschooling. CRHE is not specifically talking to people who had a religious homeschooling experience, but to all those who use homeschooling as a tool of abuse.

      • Thanks for your thorough response, Rachel! I very much look forward to reading your studies when they come out and I’m glad to know that the person who responded to my tweet was uninformed and thus I was wrong in my judgment. I think that the mission of CRHE is valuable and I am eager to see the conversation develop.

    • Guest says:

      Elizabeth Esther was not homeschooled.

  2. Guest says:

    1. Sorry about that: Here’s the link: http://kieryking.com/2013/03/s

    2. You’re right that CRHE isn’t brought up. It isn’t that it doesn’t matter, but it is irrelevant to the conversation. My point here is that the stories of these people are what need to be engaged with. And I think HA, as a blog, does this extremely well. But I am mainly engaging with the blog.

    3. Yes, no data exists, but this is because no policies or practices exist which allow for verifiable date to be collected. And policies must be encouraged for the data to be collected.

    4. While Elizabeth Ester may be a notable case for the conversation, the issue was still swept away from the mainstream media. It wasn’t until Kathryn Joyce chose to publish her piece that this conversation really escalated. We saw that abused homeschoolers was more that a minor minority; but an actual notable group of people; a group that needed precautions to be taken in order to be served well.

    Though, which piece are you referring to that critiques this issue of resentment?

  3. JN says:

    “We have yet to convince our parents we are not rejecting what they have taught us but living it out in a different way”
    This seems like a delicate way of saying you are rejecting select teachings, right? Not that that makes it wrong. Just saying.

  4. Patrick Sawyer says:

    As a husband and father of three (who were homeschooled through the 5th grade and are now thriving in the ivy league and culinary school) who has tried to lead his family from the standpoint of the Gospel and God’s overwhelming grace, this article is a reminder of two things: 1) Authentic Christian experience is rare, and 2) many people associated with churches or other supposedly Christian organizations/situations have never seen real Christianity in action.
    The article mentions spiritual and physical abuse and familial disownment. These things do not take place in Christian homes. I’m talking about real Christian homes. Homes where real Christianity, biblical Christianity is alive. Homes that authentically know Jesus. Let me be more clear. Any parents who have been spiritually and physically abusive in how they have raised their children, and any parents who would disown their children over atheism and bisexuality (two perspectives that are violations of God’s law and love for our highest good and deepest pleasure), have never met the Christ of the Bible. Regardless of what they claim, regardless of how much they talk about God, regardless of where they go to church and how long they have been going, regardless of how many Bible verses they think they know, the egregious nature of such lifestyle and actions place them outside of an authentic faith in Jesus (1Jn 4:7-21).
    It should be noted that much of Kathryn Joyce’s work reflects her ignorance of authentic Christianity as well. Real Christians are in point of fact, in time and space, being actively sanctified and sovereignly conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8) by the power of the Holy Spirit who resides in them. The Holy Spirit sees to it that His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are being manifested in Christ’s people (Gal 5). This is the flavor and atmosphere of authentic Christian environments.
    My heart goes out to those who have been hurt by a false and damning expression of religion dressed in a false and fraudulent “Christian” discourse and practice

    • bad_cook says:

      I like your sentiments, but can we just not do the No True Scotsman thing? It doesn’t actually help.

      • Patrick Sawyer says:

        Nice reference but it is misapplied in this context. God’s revelation spends a lot of time talking about and warning against false representations of what is true. False gods (Ex 20:3), false Christs (Mark 13:22), false gospel (Gal 3), false prophets (Matt 7:15), false angel (2Cor 11:14), false teachers (2Tim 4:3), false faith (James 2:14-26), false believers (Matt 7:21-23), etc. He has done this through a multitude of texts and passages. Since God has taken special care to demonstrate the differences between authentic spirituality and false spirituality, we do well to heed what He has said. That is all I am doing. A failure to do so results in the very things I referenced in my initial comment.

        • bad_cook says:

          That’s still not helpful. All those verses denounce false teaching and false whateverthehecks, but those particular verses don’t describe what those are. “Good fruit” and even “righteousness” are concepts that are pretty open to interpretation, especially in the details. Hence the existence of denominations.

          • Patrick Sawyer says:

            I was merely responding to your No True Scotsman reference by demonstrating that God makes a knowable distinction between the true and the false and therefore it follows that to acknowledge and affirm such a distinction in a certain situation when it presents itself is not a misuse of logic. Ergo it would not be a fallacy, or flawed argument, where the claim or premise is inconsistent with the conclusion. And why is that? Because God Himself has set the parameters for how we should understand the situations that present themselves relative to the proper way to discern between the true and the false in those particular situations.
            Your comment regarding interpretation betrays a flawed post-modern approach to Scripture. Biblical epistemology is in fact knowable. God has determined it so. We are not left wondering what “righteousness” means (for instance) in the context of its particular usage in the many places it appears in the Bible. We also can come to accurate understandings of proper definitions of what can legitimately be termed as “good fruit”. There is a such a thing as good exegesis (just as there is bad exegesis) and the two are not the same or equally valid. The verses I referenced in my initial comment (and there are many others that would support) are consistent with the claims tethered to them.
            Speaking of false prophets and false believers, Christ said that His people “will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:20). He meant what He said. By His statement we KNOW the “fruits” can be accurately understood because they are the basis for understanding who His people are (and who are not).
            Anyway…this will be my last comment on this post. Thanks for the engagement. Cheers and best to you.

  5. BoomerMama says:

    Good to know. I’m a big fan of homeschooling, and did it some, all while being distinctly unhappy with the “beat them until they are exhausted” philosophy that accompanied the Quiver Crowd back in the 90s. Having said that, the young people in the HA movement are exactly that, young. They, too, will screw up their kids. (Oh, and Frank Schaeffer is the ultimate pissed-off kid, and rightly so, so take him sometimes with a grain of salt.) But that doesn’t make all of us who understand the importance of stepping out of the horrid industrial educational system bad. Nor should those who had bad HS experiences — or sympathize with those who did — jump into the public schools as a reaction. You can, I suppose, if you want your children reduced to, according to Common Core, the status of “human capital.”

  6. Colin says:

    I thought I would offer some insights about Homeschoolers Anonymous and the “Coalition for Responsible Home Education” (CRHE). The original blog sites were registered by a firm called Blue State Digital, a public advocacy firm connected to the Democratic Party which does work for the teacher’s unions. One of the executives in that firm is Matthew Ipcar, the husband of journalist Michelle Goldberg, the woman who wrote the initial publicity article about HA in The Daily Beast. Her article came out only days after the websites and FB page went up.

    Shortly after the initial article came out, a friend and co-worker of Goldberg’s at the American Prospect wrote a piece called “The Homeschool Apostates”, that generated some buzz.

    One of the main organizers of HA and the CRHE is Rachel Lazerus, a woman who was never homeschooled, does not homeschool, and has ties to far-left “social justice” political advocacy groups. Rumor has it, she is friends with Michelle Goldberg.

    Matthew Ipcar and Rachel Lazerus’ father were involved in fund raising for Obama, and both made sizable donations on the same month.

    So I think there are a number of questions/concerns here:

    1. Who is funding CRHE? Who is supporting HA? The CRHE is apparently a 503c, but it is explicitly involved in political advocacy. The policy recommendations on its website are almost identical to those espoused by the NEA:

    http://www.homeschoolnewslink.com/homeschool/articles/vol6iss5/vol6iss5_NEAPosition.shtml

    2. Even though HA and CRHE’s language is cloaked in friendly phrases and inclusive rhetoric, their goals are clearly “interventionist” when it comes to homeschooling. They demand much tighter oversight and regulation, far beyond what is currently in place in even the most restrictive states.

    3. I share Matthew’s concern that their recommendations and concerns are based off of anecdotal evidence, Internet blogs, 3rd-hand stories, and ideological bias. there is nothing empirical or scientific about their approach (at least not yet).

    4. The FB group and some of the blog entries are viciously anti-Christian, to the point where it sounds like a Richard Dawkins fan group.

    So I think the big question here is, is HA an “astroturfing” operation (a manufactured grass-roots movement with a clear political objective)? It is not altogether clear, but the web of associations is troubling. It could be that Blue State was contracted out by R. L. Stollar to create the campaign, and then Ipcar got his wife involved. Then the NEA dumped some money into CRHE –but we will probably never know.

    In final analysis, I believe HA has very little to do with homeschooling and everything to do with politics. At worst, it is a disingenuous front-group. At best, it is a group of misguided individuals whose bad experiences with homeschooling have led them to condemn the entire movement.

Leave a Reply

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.