When I was growing up, I was raised in the church, so I knew several families that homeschooled for religious reasons. When we were sophomores in High School, one of my girlfriends had her mom take her out of public school because she didn’t like the friends she was making or the values that they had.
In particular, my friend’s mom didn’t like that one of our other best friends had come out as being bisexual. This seemed to be a catalytic event in my friend’s mom taking her out of school. After that, my friend was moved to a different church, and not allowed to see any of us anymore. At least until she turned 18 and moved in with her dad.
Since it is Pride month, I have been looking at the stats about religion, the LGBTQ+ community, and child abuse. So, what is the intersection of all of this? It appears, religious fundamentalists are more likely to be anti-LGBTQ+, and also more likely to homeschool their children. There can be a dark side to home schooling.
I knew it growing up, from my friend’s experience. Parents try to isolate their children from society when they homeschool.
According to First Parent,
The National Center for Education Statistics surveys revealed that ninety-nine percent of homeschoolers were religious.
There are a number of troubling things that happen in home school, of which, religious abuse and child abuse are the most troubling.
Traumatic Homeschooling and Religious Child Maltreatment
When children are homeschooled, they are out of the eyes of school teachers, who are mandated reporters of child abuse. So, in some cases, abusers will purposely take children out of school if there is an open case of abuse or neglect filed against them.
Additionally, there are some Christian homeschooling manuals that advocate violence against children to get them to comply with their parents.
One of the things that can happen in religious homeschool families is Religious Child Maltreatment.
According to Child Friendly Faith,
RCM is child abuse or neglect that is enabled by religious beliefs held by perpetrators, victims, and the surrounding community. It occurs when children are harmed as a result of religious belief, doctrine, or practice. Examples include using religious messages to terrorize children, refusing to report sexual abuse perpetrated by religious leaders, denying children needed medical care due to beliefs about “faith healing,” and beating children based on particular scriptural interpretations.
Some fundamentalist interpretations of faith can lead to maltreatment of children, especially children who are different. This can include children who are disabled, have mental health or behavioral disorders, or are LGBTQ+. However, all children in homeschool families may be more at risk for child abuse than the population at large.
According to the Safeguarding Network, some of the beliefs that can lead to child abuse include:
witchcraft and spirit possession, demons or the devil acting through children or leading them astray (traditionally seen in some Christian beliefs),
the evil eye or djinns (traditionally known in some Islamic faith contexts) and Dakini (in the Hindu context);
ritual or multi murders where the killing of children is believed to bring supernatural benefits, or the use of their body parts is believed to produce potent magical remedies;
use of belief in magic or witchcraft to create fear in children to make them more compliant when they are being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.
Sometimes, children will be subjected to practices like an exorcism, or they may be beaten, isolated or sexually abused because of their parents’ religious beliefs.
When children are homeschooled, abuse can go on much longer without being observed by anyone outside the family than when children are going to a traditional public school. This leads to traumatic homeschool experiences for many children. It can also lead to drastic circumstances for the children when the abuse isn’t noticed by the school system.
According to R.L. Stollar,
Since 1986, there have been at least 172 child abuse and neglect fatalities in homeschooling settings — suggesting homeschooled children have a greater risk of dying from child abuse than other children. A 2014 survey of 3,702 homeschool alumni also found that around half (51%) experienced childhood abuse and a further 26% reported knowing another homeschooled child who was abused. And a survey of extreme cases of child torture conducted by pediatrician Barbara Knox in 2014 found “47% [of the tortured children] who had been enrolled in school were removed under the auspice of ‘homeschooling.’” “Homeschooling,” Knox observed, “appears to have been designed to further isolate the child.”
Since home school in the US isn’t regulated, parents have the right to remove their child from school at any time to home school them. The parent doesn’t need to have any qualifications to do so, aren’t required to use a specific curriculum, and no one comes to check up on the children.
As in my friend’s case, homeschool can be used to isolate a child. When the family is abusive, this makes the case much worse. The child no longer has the school to advocate for them, or to protect them from their parents.
When children are isolated this way, they are more likely to die at the hands of their abusive parents than non-homeschool children. This is because there is no one to intervene in the abuse.
R.L. Stollar continues,
Evangelical Christians are interested in creating a parallel society. They are interested in creating safe spaces, essentially, where their children will never encounter people or ideas that contradict their teachings until those children are properly equipped to defend those teachings and not stray from them despite any evidence that they are wrong. This is why evangelical Christians invest significantly in fields of study like apologetics and worldview studies. There are books and homeschool curricula and summer camps and college programs all dedicated to keeping children and young adults from straying from white evangelical Christian values — usually defined as white supremacy, Christian Nationalism, capitalism, and the supremacy of heterosexual marriage and sexuality.
In some religious homes, the parents value their religious views over their children’s safety and autonomy. Religious beliefs are everything to them, and their children are forced to comply.
As these parents try to enforce these views on their children, they aren’t afraid to use violence to do this. Homeschool can be a platform for almost cult-like behavior on the part of parents in some extreme cases. And it seems, there are many more of these cases than most people realize.
When parents try to ‘protect’ their children from the evils of society, they may be doing so using the evils of themselves.
Seeing all the suffering that is caused by parents against their children and all the trauma that ensues, it makes me question if allowing parents to opt their children out of school at all is actually in anyone’s best interests. It isn’t in the children’s interest for sure.