The effect of religious homeschooling on children

The Quiverfull Movement that Vyckie Garrison spoke about last night encourages parents to home school their children. These people are so far gone that they even view parochial schools, let alone public schools, as sources of contamination of dangerous ideas. These parents want their children to be just like them or even more religious if possible, and that requires that they carefully control what their children read and who they associate with. The Quiverfull Movement hopes that by producing vast numbers of children just like them, they can transform the US culture just by sheer numbers alone.

So how successful are they in producing religious clones? According to Milton Gaither, professor of Education at Messiah College, not so much.

In general, both the quantitative and qualitative studies have found that most homeschooled Christian children continued in their faith when they grew up, as did most Christian children who attended public and private schools.

The type of schooling did not really make a lot of difference, especially not the sort of transformative difference many parents who choose it hope for.

If anything, homeschooled children, especially those raised in very conservative homes, tend to liberalize over time, especially if they went on to college.

So what does it all mean? Anecdotes and biased studies aside, it seems from this emerging body of work that homeschooling itself will not automatically produce adults who share the conservative political, religious and moral beliefs of their parents.

The data also suggest that family climate, especially faithful religious devotion by both parents, delivered in a context of loving nurture, is far more important than where a child goes to school.

Gaither says that unfortunately much of the public perceptions of homeschooling is dominated by a few anecdotes on both sides, of children who grew up to be pro-life culture warriors or the flip side of those who became harsh critics of homeschooling.

What worries me is the psychological effect of children growing up in a highly sheltered world where so much knowledge (academic and social and cultural) is denied to them, and what happens when they inevitably leave the home and enter the workplace where they simply cannot avoid the fact that everyone else has had a vastly different life experience and knowledge base. How do they cope? Do they feel cheated that this entire world of ideas and books and films and TV had been closed to them?


  1. says

    Do they feel cheated that this entire world of ideas and books and films and TV had been closed to them?

    As someone who was alternately home-schooled, or in a school for missionary kids, or in a Christian fundamentalist school right up through college, let me answer that.


  2. says

    The victims of ideological “homeshooling” will be a lost generation of children denied an education, akin to Syrian and Palestinian children who grow up without functioning schools. But unlike the Syrian and Palestinian children who are intentionally denied an education by occupying forces perpetrating war crimes against civilians, children in the US are victimized by their own parents.

    A report by Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, cast a sobering new light on the subtle long-term destructive consequences of violent conflicts that have convulsed a region encompassing all or portions of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and the Palestinian territories, particularly Gaza.

    In some countries — particularly Syria, which once had one of the world’s highest literacy rates — many children who ordinarily would be third or fourth graders by now have rarely if ever been inside a classroom.

    The fundamentalist christians who advocate “homeschooling” are repeating the motivations and some of the acts of four other groups that existed in our lifetimes: the Branch Davidians of David Koresh, the People’s Temple of Jim Jones, the communist Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, and North Korea. Yes, I am inferring that the leaders and parents in the fundamentalist christian “homeschooling” movement are capable of such violence. Ideological puritanism and a thirst for control combined with isolation and ignorance of the victims are what make it possible.

    It has been established that the Khmer Rouge targeted particular groups of people, among them Buddhist monks, ethnic minorities, and educated elites, who were referred to as “new people.” […] But was the ability to read and write grounds for persecution under the Khmer Rouge? […] It is thus surprising to learn that the Khmer Rouge produced at least three monthly publications. We also know that children were taught to read and write under the auspices of the regime, and that Khmer Rouge cadres kept extensive notebooks from indoctrination sessions. In addition, Khmer Rouge cadres were required to complete an eleven page questionnaire describing their family backgrounds and personal histories.

    A simple peasant thus had to write a significant amount of information to become a revolutionary propagandist.

    This is exactly what the “homeschooling” movement is about: indoctrination and repetitive brainwashing, controlling information to allow only discussion of “approved” topics, and labelling any outside idea that challenges it as being “dangerous”.

  3. Johnny Vector says

    Don’t forget that many (indeed, a very large majority) of homeschool families do so for non-religious reasons. I’m sure some of them are just another form of “protecting” the kids from “bad influences”, but many do so because the public and private schools don’t meet their needs.

    When my kids were in (public) elementary school, we were good friends with a homeschooling family, who were really the opposite of the religious types you are talking about here. They went out of their way to engage their children in all sorts of outside activities (which is how we met them).

    There are vast resources available for those who want to homeschool because, for instance, the local public schools are too religious and non-rigorous. They include a lot of curriculum material, but also resources for ways to interact with the public school kids.

    And the number of secular homeschoolers is growing. According to an article from 2013 in the WaPo:

    According to the federally funded National Center for Education Statistics, the share of parents who cited “religious or moral instruction” as their primary motivation for home-schooling has dropped from 36 percent in 2007 to just 16 percent during the 2011-12 school year.

    We should probably refer to “religious homeschooling” to distinguish from the secular type.

  4. Mano Singham says


    Was your experience in England? Because after Vyckie’s talk someone asked about how many families home-schooled for non-religious reasons and she was not sure but seemed to think that there were not that many. That may be a US phenomenon.

    According to recent statistics compiled by the US government, “91 percent of homeschooled students had parents who said that a concern about the environment of other schools was an important reason for homeschooling their child, which was a higher percentage than other reasons listed.”

    Clearly what is meant by ‘environment’ needs to be elaborated. This site looks more closely at the reasons and you are right that religion is not the only motivating factor, but it is one of the top ones, along with moral instruction and concern about the environment in other schools which may be indirectly influenced by religion.

  5. EigenSprocketUK says

    My impression of the UK home-schooling scene is that, compared to the USA, it’s far less religiously motivated. Though that will remain an important factor for some. Of the three families I know, who are are current or recent home-educators, it’s about providing education that formal schools can’t provide to a gifted child… or won’t provide to a child who is clearly not going to progress well in the educational sausage-machine.
    And they expected to be held to accepted educational standards too. Parents find networks of other home-schoolers so that the kids aren’t too isolated, though I did hear one say that the religious types were a bit more insular. One family I know successfully home-schooled through junior years with the plan to get back into mainstream education by 13 to head for formal exams.
    This is just my anecdote based on n=3, no kids of my own, and no real perspective. I remain in awe of any parent who manages to home-school successfully, because it must be really hard.

  6. MadHatter says

    I’d note that the people who claim to be concerned about the public school environment and are highly religious are often closely related in my experience. Anecdotally the parents I’ve met who homeschooled due to issues with the public school were typically of the evangelical strain and mostly didn’t like the lack of religious studies or the inclusion of science. But that’s not what they would say right off the bat when asked why. They were also really bad at homeschooling since when they invariably gave up and sent their child to school the child was well behind the public school kids in everything.

  7. estraven says

    My grandchildren are homeschooled, but not in a religious setting. They live near Ann Arbor, MI, a hotbed of liberalism, and my daughter belongs to a homeschooling group that’s very diversified in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The group hires teachers for various classes. There’s no lack of socializing! My grandkids are at or above what’s expected for their grade level in terms of scholastic competence. In short, homeschooling is far from homogeneous. I’m amazed at how curious and questioning my grandchildren are. The fifteen-year-old is reading books on neuroscience right now. Both she and her younger brother ask all kinds of questions and are good at critical thinking. I think they’ve done much better, in many ways, than they would have in public school. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but for my daughter and her kids this has worked out well. Oh, I should also say that when school became unbearable for my son in 11th grade, we took him out and homeschooled him. He was admitted to the University of Michigan after he “graduated.”

  8. Johnny Vector says

    My experience was in Maryland. It’s clear the overall numbers available are extremely fuzzy, which is annoying. But given the amount of secular curriculum and support available, it’s clear that there is a sizable community of homeschoolers who are not religious. And we do need to be careful not to shellac them all with the brush of religious zealotry.

  9. DE says

    The extremely religious have higher rates of reproduction than the less religious, and vastly higher than the secular. The American Jewish community will be Orthodox in two generations. And their retention rates are quite good.

    With respect to the Quiverfull types, as society moves towards more religion, their retention rates might improve.

    See the book, Shall The Religious Inherit the Earth? by Eric P. Kaufman:

    The author is a secular Jewish demographer who thinks, yes, they will. He’s not entirely negative about it either.

  10. raven says

    With respect to the Quiverfull types, as society moves towards more religion, their retention rates might improve.

    So what. And if god shows up once in a while, their retention rates might be even better.

    The fact is, US xianity is losing 2 million members a year and has been steadily losing them for two decades. There is no sign this will stop. The toxic perversion of xianity has nothing to offer but hypocrisy and high child abuse rates.

    He’s not entirely negative about it either.

    That is an opinion. And likely not one widely shared among Jews. In Israel, the Ultra-Orthodox have eight kids average, don’t school them much, and the men don’t work. They are subsidized by the secular middle class tax payers. They are a drag on that society that contributes nothing but warm bodies.
    PS You could make the same argument for Western Europe, Japan, New Zealand, or Australia. The breeder cults aren’t taking over there either.

  11. raven says

    One group trying to outbreed the other is an old strategy. It’s even got a name, biological colonialism.

    It rarely works. The Catholic church is a breeder cult. No birth control, no abortion. They’ve lost 9 million people in the last 7 years. They were in second place, now third below the Nones. The Mormons are another explicit breeder cult. In the 7 years between Pew surveys, they went down in percentage of the US population. (The official Mormon membership numbers are a fantasy.)

    What usually happens is after a few generations, people get bored with it and decide they have better things to do with their time and money. And oddly enough, the leaders of these cults frequently have no or small families. They don’t want to overbreed They have better things to do with their time and money. They want their clueless followers to do it for them.

  12. DE says

    @Raven, I wasn’t approving of Kaufman’s findings, just reporting them. Your tone is really nasty. I have better things to do than to argue with anti-religious zealots. You and the fundies deserve each other.

  13. raven says

    Your tone is really nasty.

    Oh. Fake persecution and tone trolling. Not surprised.
    Your tone was both nasty and really stupid.

    I have better things to do than to argue with anti-religious zealots.

    I’m sure you do. Like finishing up your grade school diploma before you die. I realize it will be a struggle but I do wish you well.

  14. brucegee1962 says

    I’ve had quite a few students in college classes who have been home schooled. I have not, in general, seen that they were any less prepared than public-schooled kids — more often, they’re pretty good.

    Of course, I teach writing, which is probably something that the parents can grasp more easily. Since the kids are usually expected to read a great deal, that probably also helps, since reading is one of the best ways to improve as a writer.

    Now, I might have quite a different experience if I was teaching science.

  15. anat says

    DE, I no longer have the source, but the numbers I saw showed a population dynamic where Haredi Jews populate the Modern Orthodox, and the latter populate the non-Orthodox denominations. IOW I expect the current proportions between the denominations to stay with little change for another generation. The liberal denominations mostly produce ‘nones’, but their numbers are made up by children leaving Orthodox denominations. What is rare is to find multi-generational families of shul-going liberal Jews.

  16. anat says

    If I were to use a biological allegory, the Haredi Jews are the stem cells of Jewish demographics, they reproduce themselves and produce the future members of the other denominations.

  17. Chiroptera says

    brucegee1962, #14: I’ve had quite a few students in college classes who have been home schooled. I have not, in general, seen that they were any less prepared than public-schooled kids — more often, they’re pretty good.

    That’s been my experience as a college level math teacher. “Course we’re seeing the ones that made it into college, not necessarily the “typical” home schooled kid.

  18. anat says

    … And those include students with supportive parents who made sure to prepare their kids to college, as well as students who made it to college despite terrible schooling thanks to their own drive and initiative.

    But not the students of parents who gave their kids ‘just OK’ education, and their kids stayed at that level
    Nor the kids whose parents deliberately interfered with their chance to go to college and the kids have not been able to overcome said obstacles

  19. northstar says

    Mano, I’m glad you specified “religious homeschooling” in your heading. We are secular homeschoolers, a very different sort, and it’s an uphill battle against the stereotyping about homeschoolers. These prejudices are not just frustrating — they are damaging. I would disagree with Ms. Garrison that there are “not many” non-religious homeschoolers; in my county, suburban Detroit, there are sister homeschool groups, one secular, one Christian. They run about even in count, about 200 families each. There is very little overlap — the Christians do not like associating with seculars, as we tend to be the polar opposite WRT politics and religion. I am not surprised people raised as religious homeschoolers barely know we exist!

    I am proud to say that even though we are public school pushouts and I was unprepared to be a homeschooling parent, my eldest daughter is a National Merit Scholar and now attends a university on a full academic scholarship pursuing premed studies. Because she was homeschooled, she could take community college classes for lab sciences, and has a jump on her fellow students because of it. She is a standout; a genetics researcher at the university recently invited her to join his team; she’s actually going to become a published researcher. She was a freshman at the time, pretty much unheard of. She’s also received other wonderful feedback from professors on her writing. But there’s one thing she’s careful to conceal — that she was homeschooled.

    People with no real understanding of how it is done seem very sure of how terrible homeschooling is. Can you imagine how difficult it is to overcome prejudices such as: “This is exactly what the “homeschooling” movement is about: indoctrination and repetitive brainwashing, controlling information to allow only discussion of “approved” topics, and labelling any outside idea that challenges it as being “dangerous”.”

    Some of the best and brightest students one is going to meet are going to have been homeschooled, as it’s allowed them to fly at their own pace. Others may be quirky; their parents may have pulled them to avoid the terrible scars of a lifetime of bullying. Others may be in racial/ethnic groups that track to low achievement, or live in low-achieving areas. Others yet may have children who are learning disabled — my second daughter might well have been tracked into special ed, but has done very well at home. (She attended high school for two years where she was a mostly A student, and has elected to return home… because “she wasn’t learning anything” at school.) These are all very legitimate reasons to homeschool — yet we are all tarred with the same brush.

    It’s an interesting life, filled with the love for learning. And it’s a different _way_ of learning: collaborative, and often highly self-directed and initiated. (We have been the subjects of just such a research study.) That’s why it’s especially irritating to hear people who know nothing of it, pronounce upon homeschooling with such negative authority. Just for giggles, here’s a video going around the homeschooling circles now; we think it’s hilarious because 1) we think that this is what other people think homeschooling is like and 2) this is what it would be like if homeschooling tried to apply the same methods of “real” school. Enjoy!

  20. anat says

    You don’t need to be homeschooled to attend community college at 16-18. Washington state has the Running Start program that does just that. But not all kids are developmentally ready at such an age.

    Also, one limitation of anecdotes is self-selection. For some people self-directed study works, for others it doesn’t, and if their parents care, they find a different solution (which might be public school).

    (Oh another thing -- it is not a bad think to be ‘tracked special ed’ -- if the school has a program that addresses the child’s issues effectively. Which is becoming common. With some learning disabilities kids mainstream more and more over time and eventually exit the program. Not that different from what you seem to have done with your daughter.)

  21. dogfightwithdogma says

    I know of one young man who was homeschooled by his rather religious mother -- a close friend of my wife and I -- who recently told me that he is now an atheist. I know this is probably not a very common outcome of homeschooling, but it sure was reassuring to hear nonetheless.

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