Many homeschool parents are pioneers. They set out to educate their children without established curriculum or external input, and many have succeeded in raising intelligent and well-rounded students. However, much like the old pioneers, they are proud, and fiercely protect their homestead against any perceived external threat. I remember, as a 15-year-old, flocking to the capital with around 600 other homeschoolers to protest a bill that would require oversight of academic progress for homeschool families. Like many other homeschool alumni, I had a positive homeschooling experience and was afraid such oversight would threaten the ability of parents to homeschool their kids. However, as I got older, my perspective began to shift as more and more homeschool graduates began to share their experiences with homeschooling.
Recently, a group called Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) created a blog titled Homeschoolers Anonymous. The purpose of the blog was to create a space where the voices of former homeschoolers could be heard. There are posts about alumni with positive memories, but the majority of stories explore the negative experiences that many faced as those are less likely to be shared. As I read though the blog I was confronted with stories of horrendous abuse, educational neglect, and rampant sexism and racism. Then I came across the organization Homeschooling’s Invisible Children which tracks child abuse cases connected with homeschooling families. There were hundreds of children’s names, many of whom had died, and all of them, like me, had been homeschooled.
I started to see news articles talking about the problem with abuse. They recounted stories of children whose parents didn’t teach them to read and parents who burned their daughters’ birth certificates because they believe that God commanded them to always remain under their parents’ authority. The more I read the more I realized that my experience was not everyone’s experience and my fight to keep the government a hundred miles away from homeschooling, while freeing to me, was only imprisoning them further.
Many homeschool parents fight against the discussion of abuse within the community. They say that it isn’t “real” homeschoolers. They cite statistics showing how well homeschoolers do on standardized tests and share their favorite homeschool success story. They argue that abuse happens even when children go to public school and regulations won’t do anything. But they ignore the fact that homeschooling is a tool, and like any tool it can be used for good or ill. Unfortunately, many people use the relative anonymity that homeschooling provides to establish complete control over their children and effectively hide the abuse they carry out.
The fact remains that the 2010 National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect in found that a child not enrolled in school is more likely to be sexually abused; an unofficial survey of homeschool alumni, carried out by HARO, found that of the 3700 people surveyed, more than 1500, were physically or emotionally abused; and, because of the state’s nonexistent regulations, a homeschool mom in Michigan was able to keep the murdered bodies of her children in her freezer for over two years without discovery. After seeing stories like this, I could not stay ignorant and I had to admit that the community I love has a problem.
The issue of homeschool regulations is a complex one and I am still trying to navigate through the maze to find a solution. However, the most important thing to do, both inside and outside the community, is to first recognize the problem. For many within the community this remains hard as they are afraid of the government unjustly removing their children from their homes, and many outside the community don’t even know this problem exists. Despite these challenges I am hopeful change will happen. If my perspective changed, then so can others as long as we get the stories out there to challenge the current rosy narrative.