Churning out soldiers for the culture war

Katherine Stewart takes a look at homeschooling. (I met Katherine at the American Atheists conference; she was one of the speakers.)

When he was growing up in California, Ryan Lee Stollar was a stellar home schooling student. His oratory skills at got him invited to home schooling conferences around the country, where he debated public policy and spread the word about the “virtues” of an authentically Christian home school education.

Now 28, looking back on his childhood, it all seems like a delusion. As Stollar explains:

“The Christian home school subculture isn’t a children-first movement. It is, for all intents and purposes, an ideology-first movement. There is a massive, well-oiled machine of ideology that is churning out soldiers for the culture war. Home schooling is both the breeding ground – literally, when you consider the Quiverfull concept – and the training ground for this machinery. I say this as someone who was raised in that world.”

Soldiers for the culture war – just what we need. A Christian Taliban in the making.

Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity. However, as many HA bloggers report, it is easy to get sucked into the vortex of fundamentalist home schooling because extremists have cornered the market – running the conventions, publishing the curricula, setting up the blogs.

As HA blogger Julie Ann Smith, a Washington state mother of seven, says:

“If you are the average Christian home schooler with no agenda, and you have the choice between attending a secular home schooling convention and a Christian one, chances are you’ll choose the Christian convention. But they only allow certain speakers who follow their agenda. So you have no clue. What you don’t realize is that they are being run by Christian Reconstructionists.”

Smith is referring to the Calvinist movement, founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, that advocates a Christian takeover of the political system in order to “purify” the nation and cleanse it of the sin of secularism.

We know from Vyckie and Libby Anne and others what that means.

Much of fundamentalist home schooling is driven by deeply sexist and patriarchal ideology. The Quiverfull movement teaches that women need to submit to their husbands and have as many babies as they possibly can. The effects of these ideas on children are devastating, as a glance at HA’s blogs show.

“The story of being home schooled was a story of being told to sit down and shut up. ‘An ideal woman is quiet and submissive,’ I was told time and time again,” writes Phoebe. “The silence and submission I was pushed into was ultimately a place of loneliness, bitterness and almost crippling insecurity.”

The fundamentalist home schooling world also advocates an extraordinarily authoritarian view of the parental role. Corporal punishment is frequently encouraged. The effects are, again, often quite devastating.

Like children beaten to death by parents who paid too much attention to Michael Pearl.


  1. says

    Ew. Why did I click that link?
    Didya see the ad for the “Guide for Young Men Searching for the Perfect Mate”?

    I can just imagine the horrors in that guide.

  2. says

    On the bright side, Mr. Stollar himself is an example that some of the intended culture warriors will turn out to be defectors.

  3. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    “Guide for Young Men Searching for the Perfect Mate”

    “Choosing your wife is one of the most important and life directing decision you will ever make. This book may save you from making the biggest mistake of your life.

    In today’s world, finding that perfect woman is a difficult art or maybe a far-out gamble, and few there be that find the lady of their dreams. Making a good choice starts with knowledge of what you need, and how to spot the gal who has your number. Choosing the type of woman who not only turns you on but also relates well to you is the key to a glorious marriage. I guess the real issue is that most guys don’t have a clue as to what makes women tick and they sure don’t know what they should be looking for. This is a clear, focused plan for becoming a man of honor, getting primed for marriage and guidance in the search for the right lady.”

    Not even a HINT that this ‘most important and life directing decision’ involves the input of another human being. That this other human being might also have preferences or even a choice in the matter. A good woman is a ‘gal’ who is a good choice. She will turn you on, relate to you, support you, she has YOUR number. That’s right, you ‘men of honor’. Finding the perfect mate really is all about you.

  4. machintelligence says

    “Guide for Young Men Searching for the Perfect Mate”
    This reminds me of the story of the man who spent years, nay, decades searching for the perfect woman until he finally found her and proposed. It turns out she wasn’t interested because she was seeking the perfect man.

  5. grumpyoldfart says

    I’d love to come back in a hundred years and see where you Americans finish up.

  6. stever says

    We mustn’t lose sight of the other homeschoolers, the ones trying to rescue their kids from the wreck of American public education. They will become more important as the christofacist infiltration of school boards progresses.

  7. Kristen McBride says

    @ Stever……good on you for mentioning the other half (or 6 percent, or whatever). My two nieces were homeschooled by my atheist sister. Result: Critically-thinking, curious, very socially adept, feminist pre-teens who couldn’t identify a Disney Princess if you offered them a free trip to Camp Quest as a prize. I’m incredibly proud that my sister liberated two awesome minds from the sexism, religion, nastiness, consumerism, conformity, and general inefficiency that we experienced as public school kids.

  8. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    I homeschool one of my kids. It has been suggested to me that homeschooling another may be prudent in the future. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. As a method of schooling it has advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes it is the best choice and sometimes it isn’t. I’m happy to be free to make that choice.

    I have indeed seen the kids being prepped for Liberty University. I’ve met the anti-vaxers and the ultra-religious gender role policers. I’ve met adults who grew up homeschooled and loved it and those who had bad experiences. I’ve also met some lovely people with happy, healthy kids who are learning differently, but at no disadvantage to kids in public and private schools. In fact, there is sometimes added advantage. Homeschooling isn’t bad for kids. Having bigoted, abusive parents is bad for kids.

    OK, I feel I have the disclaimer out of the way so that I can say this:
    We cannot go to any local meet-ups or events. The culture talked about in this post permeates the local homeschool scene. To say my family gets a chilly reception would be putting it mildly. There are secular homeschoolers in the area, but they don’t organize. So, there was a time when we decided to put our differences aside and join a local homeschool support group. We left again with haste, but not before we met the kids and saw what they were taught. In many ways the kids of these bigoted fundamentalists are nurtured and cared for with the utmost love. But, the girls take homemaker lessons while the boys go to chess club. They are taught some weird wacky things about science and history. Their parents seem to be very carefully instilling their own fears and biases into their kids. Many of the parents do this expressly for the purpose of sending their children out into the world to fight the devil and win back America for straight, white, patriarchal, Protestants.A bad situation for the kids? Yes. A danger to progressives everywhere? Hardly.

    This kind of homeschooling has been around since the Reagan era. I’ve met these kids when they grow up…at munches, Pagan bonfire parties, drag king events, etc. Yes, some of them will continue in their parents footsteps. Some of those will actually have enough knowledge and ability to competently achieve their assbackward goals. Some of them will be dentists and lawyers and maybe they’ll still think the way they were trained to and maybe they won’t. But, many of them will get the hell out of Dodge the second they are able. We don’t need to be afraid of them. We need to be here for them. For many of them leaving home is like leaving a cult and for those who are rejected by their families for being gay, sexually active, or just not believing in the sky daddy anymore life can be very rough. That isn’t only true of homeschooling families. In areas where fundamentalism is the norm (wide swaths of this great nation) the communities and schools kids grow up in can be just as backward, confining and hurtful. The next Mitch Mcconnells and Michele Bachmanns may come from homeschool backgrounds, but I doubt seriously that they will do so in any significant numbers.

  9. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    When my daughter went to Camp Quest, one of the other girls was HSed too. It was a pleasant surprise that someone there had that in common with her.

  10. Sastra says

    Years ago when my son was a toddler I bought a book called iirc Home-Grown Kids which promoted home schooling. I thought it was an option I ought to at least consider; mostly I think I was slightly concerned that maybe public schools might not be challenging or interesting enough. At the time I was a sort of cross between a Transcendentalist and an agnostic — and the book was deeply fundamentalist and opposed to pretty much everything I was for.

    But I didn’t quite take this in till much later because the writer was vague (or more likely I was vague) on exactly what was meant by the constant reference to “bad secular influences.” They were really, really bad. You had to protect your kids from these things. I assumed ‘secular influences’ meant drugs, bullying, swearing, gangs, preteen sex, and public schoolkids turning into hard, selfish, consumer-driven delinquents or something. Oh, sure, there was a lot of Christian stuff — Bible verses, references to faith, prayer … that sort of thing. But I had been around so many Christians who said and believed that Christianity was the Everybody-Be-Nice religion and humanism counted that I tended to downplay their significance. I tried to read around the religious parts. The writer was addressing me and my concerns. Surely I and my concerns weren’t his reason FOR homeschooling.

    Looking back I am amazed at how naive I was.

  11. left0ver1under says

    I would have posted this hours about had I remembered.

    There was once a “Peanuts” Sunday strip where Lucy is “teaching” Linus some nonsense. Charlie Brown and Schroeder see them, and Chuck says in despair:

    “It’ll take 12 years for Linus to unlearn everything Lucy has taught him!”

    That sums up homeschooling in one sentence.

  12. cotton says

    I was homeschooled myself. Not for religious reasons, I just got bullied a lot. I did join a local homeschool group though and it was chock full of people who needed a bit more Jesus in their kids’ education. I thought then that they were a bit odd. Now, a decade later I feel sorry for the huge gaps in their education.

  13. Rhee,el says

    Why can’t the secular homeschool parents run for their local school boards to help get change when change is needed? I teach in a public school. Overall, the kids get a great education. Where it breaks down is a combination of spineless administration and school boards that could easily cull a few bad eggs. Don’t blame the unions, as we tell our members that if they aren’t doing their jobs, they don’t get supported. Those of us who do work our asses off doing it right resent those who don’t, and wish those who have the power to take care of things would. Oh, and 90%+ of the homeschoolers who eventually get enrolled in my school come far unprepared, as well as 75%+ of those who come in from being in private schools.

  14. theobromine says

    quoth Rhee,el @13: Why can’t the secular homeschool parents run for their local school boards to help get change when change is needed?

    1) Not everyone is cut out for politics. However, I have spent 20+years volunteering in local schools, teaching science and tech (sometimes with the assistance of my homeschooled teens).

    2) I don’t know how things are in the school you teach at, but in the schools my kids attended, change was very slow. Even if I were elected to the school board and could convince the others of my position, it is very unlikely that any initiative I started would be implemented in time to be of any use to my kids before they finished school. (Not to mention the fact that where I live, most of the direction for how schools are run is provincially mandated.)

    3) Perhaps it is selfish for me to put my kids first and not work to fix the problems in the school system. However, my kids were homeschooled in highschool partly because of bullying, and partly because my kids had somewhat unusual/unconventional learning styles. So the fix for them was probably not the sort of thing that was likely to have been implemented in the school anyway.

    4) I don’t have any stats that compare academic success for homeschool vs public vs private school – all I have is my personal anecdote: My kids are now in their 20s. They both completed their undergraduate studies with honours. One is in the work world, and the other is a PhD student.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *