Over the next few weeks we are interviewing our board members so you can get to know them better and what drives their passion for HARO’s vision of “renewing and transforming homeschooling from within.” Today we’re interviewing HARO board member Ryan Stollar.
About Ryan: R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out and Co-Founder and Community Coordinator of Homeschoolers Anonymous. His child advocacy work has been featured in national and international media and academia including The Guardian UK, The American Prospect, CQ Researcher, Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, Texas Observer, The New Yorker, and ProPublica. Ryan is the author of the first-ever comprehensive curriculums on child abuse prevention and suicide prevention specifically tailored to homeschooling families and communities (Child Abuse Awareness 101 for Homeschoolers, HARO, 2015; Suicide Prevention 101 for Homeschoolers, HARO, 2015). Ryan blogs about Christianity and child protection for Cindy Brandt’s Patheos blog Unfundamentalist Parenting.
A homeschool alumni himself who was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school graduation, Ryan has served 8+ years as an public communications educator to high school students within homeschooling communities. He has a B.A. in Liberal Arts (2005) from Gutenberg College and an M.A. in Eastern Classics (2006) from the Santa Fe Graduate Institute at St. John’s College. He is certified in Mental Health First Aid by the National Council for Behavioral Health. He is also currently pursuing a Masters of Human Services in Child Protection from Nova Southeastern University (antic. 2018).
Looking back now as an adult, are you glad you were homeschooled?
Absolutely. I think—considering my personality and life circumstances—it was the perfect fit for me. As a young child, I had a really bad speech impediment. The only person who could understand me for a few years was my older brother. I think if I went to public school, I would have been bullied for that reason. I also was abused as a kid by one of my speech therapists. That, combined with the speech impediment, made homeschooling really healthy for me. My parents are wonderful people and skilled educators. They created a supportive, nurturing environment that encouraged my love for learning. There were, naturally, some subjects that my parents were not equipped to teach—in my case, subjects like high school math and science were not their areas of expertise. But they sought out co-ops and enrolled me in community college so that I could learn those subjects adequately.
What sparked your interest in public communications during your homeschooling experience?
I taught speech and debate because I love teaching. It’s an amazing experience, to be able to pass on a set of skills and see that look in their eyes when they realize, Hey, I can do this, too! Empowering people to become more engaged citizens of the world is an honor. That love of teaching is one of the motivating factors in the work I do through HARO—and I credit my own homeschooling experience for giving me that.
Have your degrees in Western and Eastern philosophy and religion had any bearing on your passion for child advocacy?
Honestly, I do wish they felt more relevant at times. At the same time, I think my degrees have helped me analyze different people’s worldviews. Studying Western and Eastern civilization gave me a bird’s eye view of how diverse cultures approach a variety of issues. That has helped me to see trends and patterns in such a small, unique movement like homeschooling. I’ve been able to see how different philosophies and worldviews have influenced that movement and how that movement reflects larger sociopolitical trends. It’s also helped reinforce the idea that there is nothing new under the sun. I mean, even an ancient Chinese philosopher like Confucius had opinions on homeschooling (he was strongly against it, if you’re keeping score).
As far as child advocacy is concerned, I do think my degrees have been relevant. While the idea of children’s rights is considered a relatively new concept, studying Western and Eastern civilization has helped me see the seeds of the idea have been around since the beginning of time. Yes, children have been marginalized and oppressed for centuries. But there have been moments of revelation where people have recognized that children are made in the image of God and deserve to have their rights respected.
How do you envision the MHS in Child Protection will help with your work with HARO?
Actually, it has already helped significantly! While I have studied child protection day in and day out for the last three years, I wanted to be formally educated on these issues. The program I am doing through Nova Southeastern University, though I have only taken two classes so far, has taught me so much about child development and how trauma impacts children. That knowledge has already enabled me to create new resources for HARO for homeschooling parents about how to help traumatized children. Everything I learn through this program, I hope to directly apply to HARO and create more resources for homeschooling parents to better protect their children.
What is one of the biggest personal challenges you have faced with your work with HARO?
I’d say the biggest challenge, personally, is how discouraging this work can be. I’m doing this work because I care about homeschooling. I want every single homeschooled child to have a great experience. That means I am invested in seeing homeschooling thrive. But so many people think that, because we criticize homeschooling when it is done poorly, that we hate homeschooling. I hate that people think we hate homeschooling or that we want to see it banned. If I hated homeschooling or wanted it banned—trust me, I wouldn’t be creating curriculums to teach homeschooling parents and communities to recognize child abuse and mental illness. I wouldn’t be applying to present our materials at homeschool conventions. Yet not a single homeschool convention has accepted us or invited us. So that part is discouraging.
But I have immense hope that homeschooling can become—at its deepest core—a pro-child, child-first movement. It is that hope that keeps me going. That, and knowing that so many homeschooled children have needlessly suffered because their parents have placed their own sociopolitical agendas ahead of their children’s wellbeing. We can, and need to, do better.
Where do you hope to see HARO in five years?
I’d love to see HARO going to homeschool conventions and educating parents about how to better protect their children. I’d love to see HARO being invited to state and local homeschool groups and giving presentations. This is my hope for HARO—that we can empower homeschoolers to love and protect their children and help alumni to thrive. I pray that, in five years, we can still be doing what we’re doing now but on an even larger scale.
Author: The HARO Team