Homeschoolers Anonymous

The Daily Beast has a story about children who were homeschooled in very strict Christian families who now, as adults, have formed Homeschoolers Anonymous to publicly present and cope with their painful pasts.

Ryan Stollar, a founder of Homeschoolers Anonymous, says, “Our primary concern is for people to be exposed to our experiences growing up in the conservative Christian homeschooling world and to see how those ideologies can create abusive situations.”

Describing super-authoritarian families who belong to groups such as Quiverfull and the Advanced Training Institute, the article notes how it is especially tough for girls to grow and learn in these situations. For instance, a story about Kierstyn King is told in the article: “As the eldest of eight, King was told that her divinely ordained role was to be a helpmeet to her mother until her own marriage, when her job would be to sexually satisfy her husband, bear as many children as God would give her, and homeschool them in turn. She dreamed of going to Patrick Henry College, but her parents saw no reason for women to pursue degrees.”

One can probably find similar stories about secular homeschoolers who embrace extreme authoritarian ideologies, as well as non-homeschoolers whose parents seek very strict military schools, boarding schools, and religious schools that match their own rigid visions of how children should be treated. However, in any case, the point is children have no rights at all in all these situations. In fact, The Daily Beast article ends with a striking comment about children’s rights:

Twenty-nine-year-old Heather Doney endured a Quiverfull upbringing in which she was beaten for the slightest infraction and forced to spend her days caring for nine younger siblings rather than learning until, thanks to the intervention of her grandparents, she was allowed to enroll in high school; she went on to earn a master’s degree in public policy from Brandeis. She’s published a guide for those planning to flee bad homeschooling situations, as well as what she calls “A Quick and Dirty Sex Ed Guide for Quiverfull Daughters.” Someday she hopes to become an advocate for homeschooled children’s rights, but she writes, “all I’ve got right now is my blog.”

Homeschooled children’s rights are good, but wouldn’t it be better to have rights for all children? This is why I think John Holt’s book Escape From Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children is so important. He wrote:

“The point is that we cannot decide, once and for all, whether it is parents, teachers, counselors, psychologists, family courts, judges, or whatever, who know what is best for children. In important matters, nobody can know better than the child himself. You don’t have to be very old or very smart to know your friends from your enemies, to know when people dislike you, are cruel to you, and hurt you. Any five-year-old knows the difference between a mean teacher and a nice one and is smart enough to want to get away from the mean one. It is only adults who are stupid enough to think that the mean teacher is somehow doing the child some good. Not that the adults themselves willingly stick around people who are contemptuous and cruel to them. Not for a minute. It is only to other people, above all young people, that we say that pain doesn’t really hurt, it really does you good. But a child should have the same right as anyone else to move away from whoever or whatever is hurting him and toward whatever he feels may help him.”