We all know neglecting to feed your kids is wrong, right? Neglecting to give them shelter, or medical attention (unless you’re religious in some states – a blind spot in the law we need to fix), or any other basic necessity of life is illegal. You might even get popped for emotional neglect. But in some states, you’re legally allowed to steal a child’s future. Extremist homeschool parents and their allies call it a right. They decide what their children get to learn, or if they get to learn at all. Educational neglect, to them, is their right. A child’s right to the future an education can give them is beneath their consideration.
If you get a chance, and you care about educating children, you should spare an hour for this video. It will horrify you.
Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts from Secular Woman, Vyckie Garrison from No Longer Quivering, and M.A. (Marian) Melby from Sinmantyx discussed the reality and effects of religious homeschooling. Note that the problem isn’t with homeschooling per se – Marian talks about the fact that most of the homeschool kids she sees in her university classes are well-educated and do well. But she points out that the subset of homeschoolers being discussed are not ones likely to end up at a state university.
Vyckie, having been the homeschool mom at one point, provides insight into homeschooling for fundamentalist religious reasons. She pointed out that the enormous emphasis on gender roles meant that girls often weren’t educated at the same rate or quality as boys. They were being prepared to become homemakers, mothers, helpmeets – why prepare girls for a career? Even if parents are well-intentioned at first, the size of the families in the sects that emphasize a “quiver full” of children means older girls end up becoming stand-in moms to the younger kids. The chores involved with feeding, cleaning, and clothing so many kids means that education is often sacrificed. Elsa experienced this firsthand: raised in a relatively small family of four kids, she was in charge of all the meals by the age of 11. For a while, her family lived in a house with no electricity. The kids had to haul water up from the creek, do laundry by hand – those tasks took a long time, with little left for education. So girls’ educations could slide. They would learn what they needed as they went along; they could learn fractions when they cooked.
Parents rationalize the educational neglect of their children by telling themselves it’s far more important to inculcate character and Biblical/Godly principles than reading, writing and arithmetic.
There’s also the fact that children are being taught by parents who aren’t qualified to teach. Elsa’s parents were creationists who taught her creationism instead of science, and that only for a scattershot few months. Because she loved science, she ended up teaching herself all she could from a thrift store biology textbook and a few popular science magazines. Her father told her she couldn’t become a doctor – it would place her in authority over men, and that wasn’t allowed. By the time she reached college, she had wide gaps in her education. She didn’t know what a beaker was. She couldn’t follow lab procedure. It was hard to overcome the deficiencies in her knowledge, and some gaps she will never be able to fill. You can tell she’s angry about it: it rings out loud and harshly clear in her voice. And she’s not alone in that. Many kids who have suffered educational neglect are angry, and using the activism their parents taught them to press for reform to educational laws and regulations, much to the horror of the parents who thought they were turning them in to soldiers for God.
And the isolation these kids experience leads to abuse. They think what they’re experiencing is normal. Marian, who grew up in a family that was liberal for the area they lived in, and went to a public school that wasn’t shy about blurring the lines between church and state, was so under-exposed to other types of families that she found the idea of atheist families strange. We all have those sorts of blind spots.
Now imagine being raised in a subculture like Elsa’s. She was surrounded by the fundamentalist idea that women must have a submissive spirit, which left them ripe for abuse. You could end up believing abuse was love. When her parents beat her, that was what she thought. She and Vyckie went over the rituals of punishment in those cultures thoroughly. It begins with disrespect – and disrespect can be something like not having a cheerful enough expression. Before disciplining you, your parents would make you pray, asking them and God for forgiveness. You were then spanked (Elsa used the word beaten) until your will was broken, after which you were expected to engage in reconciliation with the people who had just beaten you. If you didn’t reconcile to their satisfaction, you would be beaten again.
And this is considered Godly.
There’s far more. All of it will be familiar to people who follow Love, Joy, Feminism and No Longer Quivering. Most of it is horrifying. You can find plenty of information and links at Secular Woman’s Religion and Homeschooling page. I encourage you to arm yourself with some knowledge, and when bills come up in your state requiring better education standards and regulations, support them. There are kids who are being robbed of a future, because freedom of religion means freedom from education for some parents.
We need to do better for those kids.