Our ability to offer these scholarships for homeschool alumni is made possible by our generous donors. If you would like to support Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, you can do so by shopping at Amazon Smile, using the corporate matching program Benevity, or donating directly via Paypal. Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and donations are tax-deductible.
Sarah Negri is studying Math and Great Books at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is considering a career as an actuary.
1. Where did your interest in your discipline/field originate?
For as far back as I can remember, I have always loved math. Working with numbers came easily to me, and it was also enjoyable because I looked at every problem as a puzzle to be solved, a challenge to be conquered. Even outside of my studies in math, I was into Sudoku and other number puzzles, simply because I loved figuring out how the numbers fit together and formed patterns. The logic and rationality of math really appealed to my left-sided brain even as a child.
In high school especially, though, my interest in math became more focused. In my junior year I began correcting homework papers for a local homeschool math tutor, and that not only allowed me to go deeper into my math studies (because you really have to be grounded in knowledge of mathematics to correct homework) but also sparked my consideration of whether I wanted to pursue math as a career. My exposure to the subject was heightened as I began tutoring math students privately, and I never got tired of working the problems with them. Explaining the concepts to them was not only rewarding, but it also showed me how much I liked helping others understand my favorite subject.
When it came time to decide what I wanted to study, it seemed like an obvious choice to me. I really loved math and wanted to work with numbers on a daily basis. I continued working with math through correcting and tutoring until I entered college and declared math as my major. Math continues to be my passion and my preferred field of study.
2. How did your homeschooling impact your study of science, technology, math, and/or engineering?
I would say that the three main benefits that my homeschooling experience gave me with regard to my math studies were formation, freedom and faith in my abilities. First of all, homeschooling formed me as a person and as a student. I gained discipline through studying on my own and with my siblings, and I learned how to get the most out of the material and really try to understand everything. My parents instilled good values and study habits into me, and taught me to work hard at everything I do, which has been invaluable to my experience in the math field. Homeschooling gave me the time, attention and discipline I needed to truly be grounded in not just math but in all my studies.
Because of the structure of my schooling environment, I had a great deal of freedom in my math studies as well. Since I didn’t have to keep up with a class, I was able to take the time to grasp concepts fully, and if I didn’t understand something, the flexibility of homeschooling allowed me to slow down and really master the concept. I was also able to move on if I grasped the material quickly, instead of becoming bored if a class was going too slowly. This flexibility was especially relevant in high school, when I was able to dip into many different math textbooks and curricula to gain exposure to different methods and outlooks on solving problems. I had the freedom to go through Geometry twice, master Algebra using three different textbooks, and still take Pre-Calculus before I graduated. This greatly contributed to my formation in math, and is, to me, an invaluable benefit of my homeschooling experience.
Finally, homeschooling gave me faith in my own abilities. I learned most of the math I know on my own, studying the concepts and working the problems by myself. I learned what worked for me and what didn’t, and grew in confidence as I grew in knowledge. Self-studying requires self-discipline, but it is very rewarding to be able to say that I, not just my parents or tutors, was an integral instigator to my mastery of the material. Homeschooling gave me the environment, the impetus and the encouragement to make the most of the abilities I was given.
3. Describe your experience being a female in your field, from when you first showed interest until now.
As a female with an interest in math from a young age, I can honestly say that my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I have never been told “No.” My parents were the first to encourage me in my studies. I remember a letter my dad wrote to me in elementary school urging me to “really understand what you’re learning; don’t just focus on getting the right answer.” Particularly relevant to math, his advice was applicable all through high school and up to my present college studies. My mom was also extremely supportive of my love for math; she worked with me individually, helping me find methods of understanding concepts that catered to my learning style, and encouraged me when I began work as a math tutor’s assistant. My parents saw where my interests were and not only allowed me but aided me to move in their direction.
The professor for whom I corrected papers was also highly encouraging to me when I expressed interest in math as a possible career. Speaking as someone with a master’s degree in engineering, she shared with me what to expect from higher-level math studies and asserted that I would excel in the field. My peers as well, though most expressed their distaste at my chosen course of study (math isn’t the most beloved subject in the world) respected me for my decision and never made fun of me for it. Finally, as I entered my college years, I have never been told that “girls can’t do math” or heard any negative comment of that kind. On the contrary, I have received nothing but support in my decision to pursue math, and this encouragement has reinforced my dedication to my studies and my desire to do well. The sky’s the limit!
Author: The HARO Team
Thanks to our generous donors, this year Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) was able to offer two $500 scholarships for homeschool alumni, one for women in STEM fields and one for LGBT+ alumni. These scholarships are provided by homeschool alumni, for homeschool alumni, and our scholarship selection committee is comprised entirely of homeschool alumni. To learn more about the scholarships, click here. To read about our scholarship selection committee, click here.
Today, we are excited to announce the winners of these scholarships.
Women in STEM winner: Sarah Negri
Sarah attends Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she is double majoring in Math and Great Books.
LGBT+ winner: Dean Hunter
Dean attends the University of Wyoming where he is majoring in Communications.
Congratulations Sarah and Dean! We will be posting their winning essays over the next couple of days.
Interested in donating to the HARO scholarship fund? Here are three ways to donate:
- Shop via Amazon Smile. Set up “Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out” as your charity.
- Through Benevity, a corporate matching program (only available if your employer uses this program)
- Donate directly via Paypal. All donations are tax-deductible, as HARO is a registered 501(c)(3).
Author: The HARO Team
When our family started the homeschooling journey about 25 years ago, I envisioned my comrades in the movement as the ideal examples of healthy marriage and parenting. I have learned much along the way about educating and nurturing my own ten children, and I am seeing this legacy continue with my six grandchildren.
However, as the years have gone by, I have had to lay aside my cute little rose-colored glasses and acknowledge that there can also be a dark side. Abuse, whether it is against a child or a spouse, is a tragic reality in far too many homeschooling families. Because I write frequently on the topics of domestic violence and other forms of family dysfunction, HARO has asked me to share five things that homeschool moms should know about abusive marriages.
1. Homeschool moms are not immune from abusive marriages.
How many of us started out thinking that homeschooling would guarantee us harmonious families? Educating at home can help this effort in many ways, but it is not a magic potion. There are even facets of homeschooling, such as greater responsibility and stretched resources, which put families at increased risk of stress. We must never justify abuse due to these factors, but they can bring latent harmful tendencies to the surface and then compound them.
Worse yet, homeschooling often attracts fathers who already feel a high need for psychological control over others. (Yes, women can be this way too, but that is beyond the scope of this article.) Fathers may try to exert this control with intentions of raising superior children, but it backfires because good fruit does not come from the bad root of a domineering personality. Common homeschool movement teachings about authority, child training, and gender roles can enable these unhealthy control issues, which can in turn fuel abusive behavior. A man who craves power can easily become a tyrant and a bully against his wife and children, while justifying it by twisting Scripture.
A mother has the moral and legal obligation to shield her children from abuse. Though right and necessary, this puts her at risk of injury. He may shove her out of his way, which could bruise her or cause her to fall and break a bone. She may suffer joint or muscle damage while trying to pull him away from or off of a child. He may impulsively hurt her in retaliation without thinking much about what he is doing. These are forms of domestic violence against his wife, even if he is not intentionally beating her up, and even if she does not have noticeable or lasting injuries. Beyond that, a homeschool dad may purposely and maliciously hurt his wife – physically or emotionally – as a way of dominating her or “punishing” her for her supposed shortcomings.
If a homeschool mom feels she must defer to her husband in everything, or she is trying to protect her family’s Christian reputation, or if she has no financial resources or current job skills to support her family, then she can feel she has little recourse when the marriage turns toxic. If she protests or even offers an alternative opinion, she is often labeled as rebellious, told she will ruin her children, and intimidated with threats. This shaming and fear is often reinforced by her church leaders and homeschool friends who do not fully understand the dynamics of abusive relationships. If she has been conditioned to distrust or even fear government or community resources, she is at a further disadvantage.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many Christian homeschool moms I know who have been in abusive marriages for far too long, and feel like they have no choice but to put up with it. This has to stop. Even if you don’t think domestic violence personally affects you, please read these articles and the others I have linked later:
- The Bad Boy and the Angel
- We Can’t Ignore Domestic Violence
- Abigail’s Story: Responses to Domestic Violence
- Ten Myths About Domestic Violence You Didn’t Know You Believed: Part 1 and Part 2 (Christians for Biblical Equality)
2. Abuse in marriage is not just physical.
Physical violence is not the only way a man can abuse his wife.
Abuse also includes threats, ridicule, coercion, manipulation, intimidating body language, playing mind games like gaslighting, humiliating her in front of others, isolating her from friends and family, denying access to resources (finances, medical care, transportation, information, counseling), neglecting to follow through on promises and responsibilities, blocking her exit from a room, damaging her possessions, blaming her for the abuse, alienating her from her children, and more. You can see this by looking at the Power and Control Wheel.
Again, a wife is particularly susceptible to these forms of relational abuse if she believes that she must comply with her husband’s demands for authority. Because her husband has not physically injured her, she may not realize that he is still abusive. She may acknowledge that something is wrong, but think that she herself is the problem. She may attempt to work on marital intimacy, a more cheerful and submissive attitude, better child training, a cleaner house, and everything else she can think so that her husband will treat her better. What she needs to realize is that she is being abused, and that the necessary response is much different. The marriage is not just difficult or dysfunctional, but destructive and dangerous.
Recognizing abuse can be particularly confusing because it often occurs in unpredictable cycles of repeating phases: tension building (increased frustration, conflict, withdrawal, mood swings, pressure to comply), acute explosion (aggressive crisis incident that may either “come out of nowhere” or be intentionally escalated by the abuser), honeymoon (active attempts by the abuser to rebuild trust through apologies, compliments, promises, gifts, favors, spiritual activity, counseling, etc.), and calm (settling down, forgetting, minimizing, relief, normalcy). It is important to realize that even in the lull after an explosive incident, the husband is most likely still emotionally abusing her through other means, whether she realizes it or not. Again, it is important to recognize the many forms of abuse in order to realize the continued gravity of the situation.
Here are some more resources to read about recognizing the forms of marital abuse, and realizing why so many women stay.
- Recognizing Pervasive, Poisonous Power in Marriage
- Bonding and Bondage in Abusive Relationships
- Why Women Stay
- Power and Control Wheel
- The Gaslighting Technique
- Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser by Joseph Carver, PhD
3. Children are at risk of lasting damage when abuse is present in a marriage.
While you started homeschooling to nurture and care for your children, if your marriage is abusive, they are not in a safe and healthy environment. Most states consider it child abuse when children witness abuse between their parents. In extreme cases, you can be held liable and lose your children if you do not take appropriate action to protect them from the consequences of their other parent’s abuse. Think carefully about all of this if you are “staying together for the sake of the children.” You may be doing more harm than good.
At the most basic level, the stress of seeing abusive behavior in their parents’ marriage can create emotional disturbance which will also affect physical health. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bedwetting, self-harming, and defiance are common side effects. Children often internalize parental conflict and blame themselves. Or they can turn their anger and aggression against other people and become bullies themselves. If your children have been affected in any way by abuse in the home, please seek medical help and mental health therapy for them and yourself as soon as possible. If you don’t think you can afford this, call a community mental health or child protective organization for assistance.
A child is at additional risk for physical injury as an innocent bystander to domestic violence, especially if the child attempts to protect the mother, or if the father hurts the child as a way of causing extra distress to his wife. No child is safe if the father is throwing things, shoving his wife, slamming doors, or other manifestations of rage. In addition, a mother who is being abused can in turn blame her children, and then treat them in harsh and injurious ways.
While the mother is dealing with the distress in her marriage, she can easily be distracted from providing an adequate education for her children. They can also be too stressed out to focus on their assignments. While there are certainly times to lay aside formal academics to deal with family issues, if they cannot regularly attend to homeschooling because of this, then something needs to change.
Finally, marital abuse exposes children to a powerfully toxic example of a dysfunctional relationship which they may normalize (see as the usual) and then carry forward into their own romantic and parental relationships. Depending on how they process the experience, they may be more likely to tolerate or perpetrate abusive dating or marriage relationships, as well as perpetuate abusive practices with their own children. It is important for them to understand what is happening, know that it is wrong, and develop strategies to keep themselves safe for their present and future.
- Impact of Domestic Violence on Children and Youth
- Children and Domestic Violence
- The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
4. Decisive action is necessary, and sometimes it has to be drastic.
Unfortunately, abuse does not just go away on its own. A mother must take decisive action to ensure safety and sanity for herself and her children. Here are several things she might do, starting out with the basics and ramping it up as necessary:
- assess the situation to acknowledge exactly what has happened in the past and what the current and future risk is
- strengthen her confidence and resolve to move forward into a safe and healthy family life
- educate herself on the dynamics of abuse, which will involve reading and focused research
- break the silence and share her story with a supportive network of friends, family, and trustworthy on-line forums
- seek appropriate professional help (more on that in the next section)
- set and enforce firm boundaries with specific consequences
- determine her optimal alternatives if those boundaries are not respected
- make safety/exit/escape plans and preparations in case the situation escalates
- separate from the abuser, which may entail persuading him to leave the home, having him removed from the home, or moving out with her children
- go “no contact” to prevent harassment by phone, texts, messaging, e-mail
- file a restraining order to keep the abuser away from the family and home
- as necessary, file for divorce as an increased legal protection against continued abuse
Please note that while each of these steps can lead to more clarity and progress, none of them will guarantee an end to the abuse. In fact, the risk of retaliation can increase each time a woman takes initiative to distance herself further from her abuser. This should not dissuade her from taking action, but at all points she needs to be extra vigilant and not let her guard down as she moves forward to safety and dignity.
Depending on the severity of the situation, it may be necessary for the children to transition into other formats of education so that their mother can focus on the actions necessary to protect and provide for the family. This could involve homeschooling with outside assistance (hybrid school, co-op, online programs, grandparents) or enrolling some or all of the children in traditional full-time schools. This doesn’t have to happen immediately. A mother might set a goal of preparing her children for the change within a certain time period as she simultaneously works through her own future options. If a woman’s identity is wrapped around mothering and homeschooling, any of these transitions can be an uncomfortable sacrifice for her. She will appreciate compassionate understanding and support from her network of homeschool friends. She can know that she is doing her best to nurture her children, even if this was not part of her ideal plan.
Here are some other articles about taking action against abuse in marriage:
5. Help is available, but you have to know where to look.
Taking action in a domestic violence situation can be confusing and intimidating. A woman’s access to solid help in the form of reliable information and practical assistance can make a huge difference in how she is able to proceed.
Often, her first step is reaching out for advice and emotional support from family, friends, and religious leaders whom she already personally knows. How they respond is crucial. They can either move her toward safety and healing, or send her back into the lion’s den. Will they believe her story? Not always. Many domestic violence survivors are accused of misunderstanding, exaggerating, or worse yet, lying about their circumstances. Even if they are believed, they are often advised to forgive their offender, patch things up, and work on their own problems without setting appropriate boundaries or separating from the abuser. Yikes! At this point, a woman may give up trying to change the situation and just keep muddling and agonizing, questioning her own perception of reality. However, if she keeps talking about it or or finds someone else who will listen to her, she will hopefully find some support in her own personal network.
This facetious list by a domestic violence survivor and (former) homeschool mother of 12 can help others know how to best respond:
The reaction of a woman’s pastors and elders is also key, but this can get confusing, too. They may know and trust her husband, and be reluctant to acknowledge a serious problem if he seems like a normal, caring human being. Or they may be so fixated on preserving marriages in the congregation that they are unwilling to entertain the potential necessity of a separation or divorce. Or they may not have professional training in the area of domestic violence, and counsel the couple as if they had a difficult marriage instead of a dangerous and destructive one. If they use a nouthetic or so-called “Biblical” approach to counseling, they may blame the wife and tell her to deal with her own sins in the marriage. Or they may say something to the husband about the alleged abuse that embarrasses him, and he in turn takes it out on his wife. On the other hand, think of the good that would result if pastors sought professional level skills in crisis counseling, and took a broader and deeper view toward God’s heart for families. At the very least, a pastor should be able and willing to refer domestic violence victims to professional counselors in the community who are educated and experienced in this specialty, as well as gain a basic understanding of the issues. He or she can find out more at these links:
- A Cry for Justice: Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in Its Midst
- You Can Probably Guess What the Founder of “Biblical” Counseling Said About Domestic Violence
- How Christian Homeschool Leaders Have Addressed Domestic Violence Isn’t OK
One very important thing to know is that couples counseling – whether pastoral or professional – is not at all recommended when the dynamics of abuse exist in a relationship. This is rarely (if ever) effective and puts a wife at additional risk of abuse and retaliation. Both parties do need counseling, but it should be individual. If they use the same counselor, there must be an absolute guarantee of confidentiality.
- Why Couples Counseling is Not Recommended for Abusive Marriages, Even Christian Ones
- 12 Reasons Why Couples Counseling Is Not Recommended When Domestic Violence Is Present
Beyond a woman’s existing personal circle of friends and family, there is much help available in the community. She can research information and participate in support groups on the Internet, check out books at the library, call a domestic violence crisis line, seek help at a women’s shelter, get professional counseling (can be faith-based and may be covered by insurance), apply for government financial and medical assistance, and find a referral for affordable (maybe subsidized) legal help. Here are some links for these community resources:
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Domestic Violence Awareness Month with Leslie Vernick
- Tech and Social Media Safety
- How to Cover Your Tracks Surfing the Web
- Domestic Violence Shelters (find one in your area)
- Apply for Medicaid (based on income and family size)
- Finding the Right Counselor for You
- Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men book by Lundy Bancroft which you may find at your public library. This is a wealth of information, so GET THIS BOOK even if you have to buy it!
- Free Yourself from an Abusive Relationship: 7 Steps to Taking Back Your Life book by Andrea Lissette, M.A. And Richard Kraus, Ph.D.
- Behind the Hedge – a novel by Waneta Dawn about domestic violence in a Mennonite home
This is a lot of information to process right now. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please read more and come back to it again, even if it is just a little at a time. Let it sink in. Think about what you need to do next for yourself or someone else, and start taking steps in that direction. What you know, what you say, and what you do about domestic violence can make a difference not only now, but for generations to come. Let me know if you need help.
Guest Author: Virginia Knowles
Virginia Knowles writes about spiritual abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence at Watch the Shepherd. Knowles is the mother of 10 children. She has been a Christian since 1976 and attended a variety of churches since then. Some of her former churches have been associated with allegations of spiritual abuse, mostly notably within Sovereign Grace Ministries. She is now a member of a small PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) congregation near Orlando. Knowles has home schooled for nearly 25 years, though some of her children have dual enrolled in college while in high school, and some have also attended public school.
We are excited to introduce you to the individuals who will be selecting our 2016 scholarship winners. All three are homeschool alumni; one is returning from last year’s committee, and two are brand new to the committee this year.
Don’t forget that the deadline for this year’s scholarship applications is coming up on February 29. If you would like to apply for one or both scholarships, you can find all the information here.
Jessica Heebner grew up in Alabama where she was homeschooled through 12th grade.
She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Currently, Jessica works as a veterinary oncology nurse at one of the largest specialty practices in the North East. Through her work as an oncology nurse, Jessica has discovered a passion for cancer research and in 2017 will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Biochemistry with a focus on cancer biology research.
In her free time, Jessica enjoys playing video games with her husband, hiking and volunteering at a wildlife rescue organization.
Lana Martin grew up in Texas, where she was homeschooled 5th through 12th grade.
She recently received her PhD from UCLA after finishing a dissertation on the archaeology of ancient farming, foraging, and hunting practices in Caribbean Panama. She also has an MA in Anthropology from UCLA, for which her master’s thesis was Reconstructing Paleoenvironmental Instability and Plant Resource Availability on Santa Cruz Island using Macrobotanical Analysis. Lana’s field experience includes archaeological excavation, survey, and mapping in Texas, New Mexico, California, and Panamá.
When she isn’t teaching or writing, Lana enjoys cruising the streets of Los Angeles by bike, hiking the mountains of Southern California, playing with her cat, and cooking dishes with maximum garlic content.
Josh Powell grew up in rural Virginia, where he was homeschooled under the state’s religious exemption statute with his eleven younger siblings. He identifies as queer and has been out to his family friends since the age of sixteen, and has been involved with homeschool advocacy work to varying extents since a Washington Post article was published about his family’s home school experiences in 2013.
After graduating Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, he taught middle school English in Denver, CO as a part of Teach for America. He is currently working in Nanjing, China as a college counselor to Chinese high school students who desire to attend university in the United States.
When not reading and commenting on application essays, he enjoys traveling and trying foods with names he cannot pronounce.
Installment Eight of the 2014 HARO Survey examines aspects of respondents’ mental health histories, including the mental health conditions they have had, their families’ attitudes towards mental health, and the prevalence of self-injury and substance abuse.
In summary, survey responses to questions about mental health showed that around half of respondents had visited a therapist and around half had experienced mental illness, a figure roughly comparable with that of the general population. Mood disorders appeared to be considerably more common among the survey respondents than in the general population, affecting around 40% of respondents. About half of respondents reported that their parent or caregiver had experienced mental illness; attitudes towards mental illness in respondents’ families of origin tended to ignore it or favor religious and/or supernatural explanations, and respondents obtained very little treatment—even faith-based treatment—for their mental health conditions while being homeschooled. Many respondents felt, however, that their caregivers would be receptive to education about mental health issues. Self-injury was a struggle for more than one quarter of respondents and more than two out of five had struggled with suicidal thoughts. Nearly one in ten had attempted suicide. The rates of mood disorders and suicide attempts may be attributable to the fact that the respondents skewed young and female.
About the Survey
In 2014, HARO, the parent organization of Homeschoolers Anonymous, conducted a survey of adult alumni of the modern Christian homeschool movement in consultation with the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE). The purpose of this survey was to investigate the life experiences of Christian homeschool alumni by collecting information that past surveys of homeschool alumni had not. The data collected will be used to advocate for the interests of current and future homeschooled children.
The survey, written by HARO Executive Director R.L. Stollar, was developed over a span of 9 months. Work on the survey began on November 24, 2013 and it was opened to the public on August 18, 2014. A set of approximately 90 initial questions were first created. These questions were then tested, modified, and re‐tested repeatedly over a span of 6 months to create the survey questions that were on the final version. The questions were specifically run by a diverse group of people, including Christians and non‐Christians, conservatives, moderates, and liberals, homeschoolers and unschoolers, and so forth. The final version of the survey featured questions on demographics, academic school experiences, non‐academic school experiences, food and health, religion, present and future personal life plans, sexuality, mental health, and abuse.
The survey, conducted online through SurveyMonkey, was estimated to take respondents 30 minutes to complete. It was first promoted through the homeschool abuse survivor community, from which it spread across the country through online social networks (primarily Facebook). Survey respondents were required to affirm that they were 18 years old or older, had been homeschooled for at least 7 years, were homeschooled in an environment which was classifiable as Christian (including Christian‐influenced new religious movements), and were taking the survey through completion for the first time. A total of 6,249 people started the survey; 3,702 respondents completed the survey before it closed on September 15, 2014. Only the completed responses were recorded and analyzed.
Data analysis was generously provided by the amazing team over at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE). HARO is extraordinarily grateful to CRHE for donating an immense amount of their time and energy to analyzing the survey data.
View and download other installments of the survey here: Installment One | Installment Two | Installment Three | Installment Four | Installment Five | Installment Six | Installment Seven | Installment Eight | Installment Nine.
To download the eighth installment of results from HARO’s survey, click the link below:
A Complex Picture: Results of the 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement, Installment Eight
Author: The HARO Team
For many years I worked at an educational retail store and was the token homeschool employee. Whenever a parent came in asking for help with homeschool materials, they were deferred to me. I enjoyed listening to people tell me their stories about the struggles and fears of what they were getting themselves into. Many children had issues with their school environment which centered around bullying, anxiety, illness, or they simply were not being challenged enough.
After listening to the parent’s story, I would often get asked, “Now what do I do?” In response, I would offer the following advice:
1. Honestly ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
This is a question that deserves a well thought out answer. Homeschooling requires a parent’s full commitment and should not be taken lightly. This simply means that a parent is working in the best interest of their child to help them achieve their educational goals.
Many factors play into why and how a family homeschools. Sit down and make a list of what your child’s educational needs are. Think of people you can talk to if you have issues regarding learning disabilities or accelerated academic learning. Think about the subjects you are more comfortable with teaching and which ones would you need extra help with. For me, writing, history and elementary age science were a blast! However, I was overwhelmed by having to relearn high school level math and science and did not think that I was as effective of a teacher in these subjects.
As well as your child’s educational goals, think about your goals as a teacher. Perhaps homeschooling is a temporary answer to meeting a child’s educational need due to an illness or a move. Are you more comfortable working on a year by year basis or committing through high school? You may also consider joining a homeschool group or co-op for support. Be aware that you’ll probably receive a lot of advice about how to homeschool or what curriculum is the best. Homeschoolers can be passionate about their ideas and their books! The purpose in thinking about your goals though, is to recognize that no matter what advice someone else gives you about homeschooling, your family is unique. What works for someone else may not work for you.
2. Learn your state’s laws regarding homeschooling requirements.
It is also important to understand what your state requires from you as a homeschooling family. Requirement levels range from having to do absolutely nothing to annually registering your children. Some require limited or annual testing while others require portfolios to be reviewed by professional evaluators. States also vary in regard to homeschoolers playing interscholastic sports and how a student obtains a driver’s license.
All states have a compulsory school attendance law for children. The mandatory age varies by state but ranges between 5 and 8 years old. Make sure that you are aware of your state’s compulsory attendance law and what is required if you need to register your child.
If your state requires testing or portfolio reviews, make sure you understand which grade levels they need to be accomplished and how to go about meeting the requirements. Many do not allow the homeschooling parent to proctor exams or review portfolios.
For example, I homeschooled my children in the state of Oregon. Oregon compulsory school attendance law requires that children age 6 (by September 1) attend school. A parent must notify their educational service district within 10 days prior to school starting of their intent to homeschool (or, if a parent withdraws their child from school during the school year, within 10 days after withdrawal). Parents are only required to notify their educational service district once. Students are required to be tested in 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grade (by August 15) by a neutral tester and test results are to be submitted upon request.
3. Understand the myths and realities about learning styles.
Understanding the different ways that children learn is important — but perhaps not for the reason you think. While there are many different learning preferences, experts tend to focus on these groups: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and analytical.
Visual – Learn by watching. These students may need to doodle or draw during lessons and are able to illustrate or list in writing what they have learned.
Auditory – Learn by listening. These students need oral instruction and may have difficulty in writing.
Kinaesthetic – Learn by active, hands-on activities. These students may need to move around and do projects that show what they have learned.
Analytical – Learn by understanding patterns. These students may ask a lot of questions to understand how things relate to one another.
It is important to note that the idea that children learn better when their instruction is tailored to their preferred way of learning is a myth. What is true, however, is that different ways of learning are more or less helpful when it comes to different subjects. For example, my youngest learns history best through kinaesthetic and auditory activities. When it came time to work on a history assignment I would read out loud to him (auditory) the lesson for the day while he sat building with a pile of Legos. Usually when we were done with the lesson I would ask him questions about the lesson and there was a small page for him to complete in his lap book (visual) to help me know that he understood what he was learning. My oldest, on the other hand, would have preferred to read the history lesson on her own and answer a sheet of comprehension questions. This is because more advanced learners learn better when solving problems themselves.
It is also helpful for you to understand your own learning preferences. We tend to teach in the style in which we feel most strong, but it is important to teach to children’s learning strengths and their weaknesses. Making sure your kinaesthetic-preferring child has a chance to learn not only kinaesthetically but also visually, auditorily, and analytically will enhance your child’s education.
4. Understand different ways to homeschool.
There are many different ways to homeschool and many different curriculum options for homeschooling. For my first year of homeschooling I was overwhelmed by the options available and went for a first grade package set. By my tenth year of homeschooling I used a unit study approach for most subjects, and was more comfortable with mixing materials based upon what worked best for each child. In our final year at home we tried an online public school approach. While a lot of people I know loved the program, we lasted six weeks with it because it was too difficult for my child to follow.
Talk to people who homeschool to find out how they are homeschooling and what curriculum or books they are using. What do the like or dislike about their curriculum or program? Again, beware, you will find that people are very passionate about what they use! However, this can be a good way to find out information about different styles and material.
Be aware of your budget. Curriculum can be very expensive, but it does not have to be. Thanks to the internet, there is a wealth of information in terms of lessons plans, video tutorials, writing prompts and lessons, science projects, unit studies, etc. Remember that the library can be your best friend in terms of reducing the cost of books. I found out that I was able to have access to a neighboring county library system as a teacher. Not only was I able to utilize a larger library system, but I was able to check out books for a longer period of time.
5. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
My final advice to the question, “Now what do I do?” is to tell new homeschoolers not to be too hard on themselves. The first year is the hardest because you’re on new territory. It takes some adjustment time for everyone, especially for kids who are used to going to school. Try to take breaks and get out of the house when you can. Trips to the park or field trips around town to places you have never been offer new experiences. Homeschooling allows great flexibility to try different activities with your kids to see what they like and find out what they are passionate about.
Homeschooling can be a fun, creative and rewarding educational experience for your child and you. Teaching your child allows you to experience the “light bulb” moments when concepts are understood. It really is amazing to watch how children grow mentally, physically and emotionally. With a bit of thought and planning, you can be a wonderful educator to your child.
Author: Kathi Bonham
Kathi Bonham is a member of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s Advisory Council.
Earlier this month LA Weekly’s Catherine Wagley published an article for JSTOR Daily about abuse within the Christian homeschooling movement. The article has impressive depth and nuance and I recommend it to those interested in homeschooling issues.
Wagley interviewed me for the article. The interview happened last summer so it was half a year between the time of the interview and the time of publication. I forgot most of the questions she asked me. One of the quotations she used from our interview stood out to me:
“We’re trying to look at the patterns,” said Stollar, HA’s co-founder. He thinks exposing the power relationships and abuses is the only way to keep them from continuing. “These issues, they’re not specific to homeschooled people. They’re related to the problematic way society in general deals with domestic abuse and sexual abuse.”
This stood to me because it is a point that I consider truly vital to the work done by HARO and our narrative-sharing platform Homeschoolers Anonymous (HA). It is also a significant point of misunderstanding between HARO and HA and our critics.
Our critics often think that HARO as an organization believes that homeschooling is inherently problematic. Or they think that HARO believes homeschooling done by Christians is inherently problematic. Or they think that HARO believes homeschooling done by fundamentalists of any stripe is inherently problematic.
Yet the problems that HA addresses — and the solutions we are looking for through HARO — cannot and should not be reduced to “fundamentalism,” “fundamentalist Christianity,” or even “homeschooling.” I have seen homeschooling done in both amazing and destructive ways. I have seen Christians homeschool their kids both successfully and unsuccessfully. And I have seen fundamentalists homeschool their children both constructively and destructively.
Yes, there are homeschooled children who cut themselves with razors because fundamentalist beliefs have led them to have no other outlet for their pain. But there are homeschooled children who bear the scars of self-hate who grew up in homes untouched by Bill Gothard and Christian Patriarchy, who never knew those names until they were adults and engaged with the HA community. Some of these kids grew up in moderate Christian homes, but some grew up in secular homes.
This is why, in my presentation “Facing Our Fears,” I said that, “The wheels of abuse and neglect in homeschooling are driven by much more than Patriarchy and Legalism; those systems are but a few of the wheel’s parts. All these problems are connected. They involve valuing ideas over children.”
It is the convenient, lazy route to blame every problem on one person or one idea: to say it is all Doug Phillips’ fault, that Quiverfull ideology is responsible, or that the Christian Reconstructionist movement is to blame. But whatever the problem is, I promise you I can find it somewhere else within another homeschooling family or subculture, too. If the problem is an eating disorder, we can find eating disorders outside of Vision Forum followers. If the problem is child rape, we can find that outside of Quiverfull families. If the problem is a high control home environment, we can find those outside of Christian Reconstructionism.
None of this means that Doug Phillips, Quiverfull ideology, or Christian Reconstructionism are innocent or safe. None of this means that those people or ideas have no impact on children’s eating disorders, abuse experiences, or home environments. What it means, simply, is if we want to take comprehensively take on problems like eating disorders, abuse experiences, or home environments, we need to think bigger.
By thinking bigger, I mean that we must avoid the temptation to think that these problems are not systemic to our society in general because of the way we treat children, education, child abuse, and mental health. Non-homeschoolers want to blame these problems on homeschooling; moderate homeschoolers want to blame these problems on extremist homeschoolers. While certainly there are valid arguments to be made about how homeschooling and extremism can contribute to abuse and mental illness, it is important to go one step deeper and grab the roots of the problem, not just the trunk. If we are only blaming homeschooling or one ideology like Christian Patriarchy or a couple of leaders like Gothard and Phillips, we are missing the patterns that will create new forces — new forces that will reproduce the exact same problems, albeit in different forms.
Nicholas Ducote, HA’s co-founder, grew up in a home that adhered to Bill Gothard’s ATI program. I did not. I grew up listening to secular music and did not even hear Gothard’s name until the end of high school. Yet Nicholas and I both have approached this project from shared experiences. We both saw pain reflected in many of our homeschooled peers’ faces — but when we started, we saw that pain from different angles. Ducote saw the damage wrought by ideology — he saw how fundamentalist Christian ideologies wrecked havoc on his own family and many other families. Whereas I saw the damage wrought by practice — how turning a blind eye to self-injury and substance abuse within the high-performance environment of speech and debate was hurting children.
Where our experiences intersect, and have now merged, is our understanding that ultimately it is how communities and parents respond to the pain that is probably the most universal problem. Yes, Christian Patriarchy creates problems. And yes, putting children on impossible pedestals is a problem. But what unifies these diverse experiences is when communities and parents are ignorant or ill-prepared to recognize the problems when they appear and respond to the problems in healthy and sensitive ways.
We may never be able to convince the homeschooling movement to give up certain ideologies and practices. What we can do, however, is convince as many homeschooling communities and parents as possible to educate and equip themselves with compassion and knowledge so that they can help struggling children and parents. We can, for example, give homeschooling communities and parents the tools to identify, understand, and respond to self-injury. We can give homeschooling communities and parents the tools to fight child abuse in their midst. We can give homeschooling communities and parents the tools to think reflexively on the import and meaning of self-injury and child abuse within their respective contexts.
These steps are essential to HARO’s vision of “Renewing and transforming homeschooling from within.” They are essential to making homeschooling a children-first movement. And ultimately, they have nothing to do with fundamentalism or homeschooling. They are best practices that can dramatically improve the lives of children everywhere — which is exactly why homeschoolers need to take them seriously.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
Understanding trauma symptoms is key to helping abuse survivors in our homeschooling communities.
When a child experiences a traumatic event such as child abuse or witnessing domestic violence, the impact that event has on the child is exhibited by trauma symptoms. These symptoms can be affective, behavioral, and/or cognitive.
Affective symptoms are seen when a child is unable to adequately control their affective (emotional) states. For example, if a child is constantly anxious, this can be because a traumatic event has forced the child to feel generally unsafe and thus hypervigilant. Homeschooling parents should be particularly observant of this phenomenon because the anxiety caused by a traumatic event can lead to parentification. Parentification occurs when a child tries to act above their age (taking on responsibilities above and beyond their maturity level) in order to ward off future trauma. Since many homeschooled children are praised for acting beyond their age or maturity level, it is important that parents know how to distinguish because simple maturity and a maturity indicative of trauma.
Behavioral symptoms are seen when a child behaves in certain ways to avoid painful feelings. For example, a child may try to avoid anything or anyone that reminds them of a traumatic event. A child sexually abused by a pastor may become frightened by other pastors. One homeschooling leader’s advice of forcing a child fearful of a deacon to reciprocate that deacon’s display of physical affection is thus unwise. A child may also replicate the trauma inflicted on them onto another person, acting out in physically or sexually inappropriate ways in play with other children.
Finally, cognitive symptoms of trauma are seen when a child has to alter the way they see and understand the world to reduce how painful the traumatic event was and is. The following explanation of cognitive trauma symptoms comes from Judith A. Cohen, Anthony P. Mannarino, and Esther Deblingner’s 2006 book Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents:
Following a traumatic event, children will typically search for an explanation for why something so terrible has happened to them or their loved ones. If no rational explanation is found, children may develop irrational beliefs about causation in order to gain some sense of control or predictability. In our experience the most common irrational belief involves children blaming themselves, either by taking responsibility for the even itself (“He sexually abused me because of how I dressed”) or for not foreseeing and avoiding the event (e.g., “I should have known Dad would be in a bad mood—why didn’t I warn Mom to leave the house so he wouldn’t have beaten her up?”; “I should have stopped my brother from going to school today so he wouldn’t have gotten shot on the way home”). Alternatively, although not blaming themselves directly for the traumatic event, children may come to believe that they are bad, shameful, or otherwise lacking in some way that “justifies” bad things happening to them (e.g., “There must be something wrong with me for this to have happened to me”). In this manner the world remains fair, predictable, and makes sense; it is only they who are deserving of bad fortune. Children exposed to ongoing interpersonal trauma (child abuse or neglect, domestic violence) seem particularly prone to these types of cognitions, perhaps because these acts are intentional, personally directed, and typically perpetrated by parents or other adults who would ordinarily be expected to protect rather than harm children. Developing realistic cognitions of responsibility (i.e., blaming the perpetrator) may be extremely difficult and painful for these children (11).
Survivors of abuse often talk about the importance of avoiding “victim-blaming,” or blaming the survivor of a traumatic event for the fact that the traumatic event happened. I have seen people who have not experienced the trauma of abuse mock or make light of the phrase “victim-blaming,” seeing it as a cliche or an epithet mindlessly thrown at anyone an abuse survivor dislikes.
I think it is important, therefore, to understand that “victim-blaming” is actually a real phenomenon — and often, victim-blaming is a self-inflicted wound. When people blame a survivor, they are adding pain on top of pain. Not only are they themselves hurting the survivor, they are also encouraging the survivor to continue their own process of self-blame. This is why it is so crucial that we understand how to love and support survivors in healthy ways — not only in our communities, but also the legal system.
Blaming one’s self for the trauma one feels is, as seen above, a common symptom of trauma. If we want to commit to helping abuse survivors, including abused children in our homeschooling communities, we need to understand this fact. And we need to commit to doing everything we can to help traumatized people to know — and believe — that they are not at fault when another person hurts them.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
“Supporting your LGBT[Q] child does not mean that parents and other family members must accept behaviors that they consider inappropriate or against their family’s standards; what it does mean is that children who engage in behavior or express an identity that is not approved by the family still need love and acceptance, still need to feel that they are a part of the family, and still need a positive sense of self and hope for the future. As with any behaviors that parents find inappropriate or unacceptable, care should be taken not to send rejecting messages to the child or young person himself.”
~ Family Acceptance Project
Dear homeschooling parent:
Perhaps you are reading this with trepidation, fearful that we’re going to ask you violate your personal beliefs about gender and sexuality. Please know that none of the following seven steps require you to hide, violate, or otherwise sacrifice your own personal beliefs about gender and sexuality if those beliefs are in tension with your child’s.
These are all steps you can take simply to communicate to your child basic love and respect. They are also all steps that are fundamental to reducing the risk factors that come with being LGBTQ. LGBTQ kids face significantly higher rates of physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and mental illness. These higher rates are statistically demonstrated to become exacerbated by family rejection of the child.
Yes, you read that right: if you simply commit to communicating that you still love and respect your child even though you might disapprove of their gender or sexual identity, your child will be 8 times less likely to attempt suicide, 6 times less likely to report high levels of depression, 3 times less likely to abuse substances, and 3 times less likely to be at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
We at Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out understand how intensely controversial the subject of gender and sexual identity is within conservative Christian homes and communities. We all grew up in conservative Christian homes, many of our families are still both conservative and Christian, and many of us are still Christian ourselves. We know that this is a sensitive subject for many. But we believe there is so, so much that conservative Christians, the Church, and Christian homeschooling communities can do to make the lives of their LGBTQ children easier and safer even while maintaining sincerely held beliefs.
We’re asking you to make a simple commitment: do what you can to make the lives of LGBTQ children easier and safer. The following seven steps are good places to start.
1. Don’t ignore your kid’s gender or sexual identity.
If your child tells you they are gay or bisexual or transgender, acknowledge it. It took so much courage for your child to tell you. You probably have no idea just how brave that simple step of honesty took. So no matter what you think about it, honor your child’s courage and honesty. Don’t walk away. Don’t give them the silent treatment. Don’t say, “No, you’re not.” Be in the moment. Sit in the moment. Say, “Thank you for being willing to tell me.” If you make them afraid of sharing something as essential as who they are, they will be afraid to come to you about all sorts of other important issues.
2. Know that your child already knows what you think. But they don’t know — and might be greatly fearing — what you will do.
When your child tells you about their gender or sexual identity, don’t recite Bible verses or preach a sermon. Trust me, if you have religious objections to your child’s gender or sexual identity, your child already knows them. They have known them — and felt the guilt and shame that comes from feeling they are violating your beliefs — for longer than you would guess. Studies show that most LGBTQ kids realize they’re different starting at the age of 10. They could probably recite from memory the exact verses you were going to; they could probably preach a better sermon against their gender or sexual identity than you can. Because they have wrestled with reconciling who they are with what they feel is right (according to what you believe). So don’t tell them what they already know you think.
What they’re likely worrying about in this moment is what are you going to do? Are you going to tell them they’re evil? Are you going to hit them? Scream at them? Are you going to kick them out of the house? Are you going to never let them see their siblings again? Those are all things that parents have done to LGBTQ kids. They are things Christian homeschooling parents have done to their LGBT* kids. Those actions are devastating. Remember the statistics we started with? If you reject your child, those statistics get flipped. Your child will be 8 times more likely to attempt suicide, 6 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3 times more likely to abuse substances, and 3 times more likely to be at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
In this moment, your child is likely worrying you might reject them like so many other LGBTQ kids’ parents have. So instead of telling them what you think, tell them what you’re not going to do. Let them know they still have a home. Let them know they still have a family. Let them know they still have your love.
3. Commit to loving your child.
This is your baby. This is the child you have raised. Never forget that. Even if your child is going down a path you don’t like, even if your child is making decisions that confuse or hurt you, remember that this is still your child. If you believe in God, this is the person God entrusted to your care. Keep loving them.
Don’t get sucked into the lie that “tough love” is anything but destructive. Love should only be tough in the sense that it is enduring. Love should not be “tough” in the sense that it endangers the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of another person. Love isn’t endangering. Love is patient, kind, and protective (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
4. Commit to loving your child authentically.
Don’t love conditionally, with strings attached. Don’t show them love just so you can stay in their lives to guilt trip them with sermons or books you send to try to convince them to change their gender or sexual identity. Don’t act like your love is a privilege that you are bestowing on them that they don’t deserve. You’ll just push them away. Your kid is smart; they know when you are being passive aggressive or manipulative. Just show that you love your child and that will go a really long way. If you want to have a serious, mature conversation with your child about their gender or sexual identity, ask them if they’re up for it. If not now, maybe they’ll be up for it later. (Respect their answer.) If the conversation does happen, commit to engaging in your child in a kind manner.
5. Learn and use accurate language.
It will go a long way if you learn and use accurate language about the gender or sexual identity of your child, even if you completely disagree with them. If your kid is bisexual, don’t say she’s a lesbian. If you’re kid is transgender but straight, don’t say he’s gay.
Above all else, learn what words are hurtful to LGBTQ kids. Don’t use slurs like “homo.” Use the right words like “transgender,” not “transgendered.” It might not make sense to you why accurate language is important. It might be frustrating that the words considered appropriate in a year ago are no longer appropriate now. But it will mean a lot to your child if you commit to using language that is respectful of your child, even if you disagree with your child’s choices and decisions. If you don’t know what language to avoid, here is a good place to start.
Also, respect your child’s pronoun preferences; this is important to their mental health care.
6. If your child has a partner, treat your child’s partner with love and respect.
This might be particularly hard to you because your child’s partner represents the fact that your child is living their life in a way with which you intensely disagree. But your child’s partner is just as human as you are. They’re not a stereotype; they’re not the enemy. If you’re a Christian, you need to realize that your child’s partner is made in the exact same image of God as you are and your child is, and that image deserves love and respect like any other human being.
You don’t have to approve of anything; you don’t have to say you like it. But treat them well. Invite them over for dinner. Have normal conversations. Ask questions about their lives. Get to know them as fellow human beings.
7. Avoid alienating phrases like, “You can’t be a Christian and be ______.”
While you may think you’re making a theological argument, your child can easily interpret (or misinterpret) this phrase as saying God does not love them, that they are not welcome in faith communities, or that they will be ostracized from the support systems their faith community provides them. That’s only going to drive them away from the communities and support systems that can prove vital to their health and well-being.
For additional information:
• Family Acceptance Project, A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT[Q] Children, link.
• Family Acceptance Project, Supportive Families,Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children, link.
• Child-Friendly Faith Project, “Can Christian parents support their LGBT[Q] children without compromising their faith?”, link.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
While I was being homeschooled, I encountered a number of phrases that seemed universally derided by the homeschooling parents and teachers around me. One of these phrases was the question, “What about socialization?” But I think the most intensely derided phrase was the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The most famous usage of the proverb is from Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book, It Takes a Village, which called for, among other things, “comprehensive early education programs for disadvantaged children and their families.”
While Clinton politicized the phrase, the original and lesser known usages of the proverb are focused more on how a village or community provides protective factors in favor of children and against their abuse and neglect. For example, Jane Cowen-Fletcher’s It Takes a Village, a 1994 children’s book, tells the story of a young girl in Benin, West Africa. The girl is entrusted by her mother with her younger brother to babysit. When the girl loses track of her brother, her fellow villagers help out, thereby preventing any harm from happening to the child. The book provides “a heartening portrait of a caring community.” Another book from 1994, Chinua Achebe’s acclaimed novel Things Fall Apart, uses the proverb to highlight “the care of children in the Igbo community” in Nigeria.
Both of these stories reveal that a village or community has a truly important role in protecting children. That role is described by the phrase protective factors. Protective factors are those elements in a child’s world that provide a buffer between the child and potential abuse and neglect. The Western Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities explains that, “Protective factors refer to positive action strategies that build resiliency in youth.” Resiliency in youth is defined by the Child Welfare Information Gateway as “the ability to cope and adapt to change. Being resilient allows children and youth to overcome difficulties in their lives.” In other words, protective factors not only reduce the possibility for abuse and neglect, they also equip a child to cope with abuse and neglect if and when they happen.
Protective factors are the opposite of risk factors, that is, those elements in a child’s world that increase the potential of abuse and neglect (and thereby decrease the development of resiliency in children). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified a number of risk factors for child abuse and neglect. Some of these factors involve individuals, others involve communities, and still others are specific to families. I want to focus on the family risk factors for a moment. The CDC lists the following:
- Social isolation
- Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence
- Parenting stress, poor parent-child relationships, and negative interactions
I want to focus on these specific risk factors because they are often the result of a certain attitude within homeschooling which is unhelpful. This attitude is best expressed by HSLDA Director of Federal Relations Will Estrada in an interview with the Daily Caller: “Children are given by God to parents and to families to be loved, to be raised and to be prepared to go on to become leaders in their community. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes parents—loving parents in a home—to raise a child” (emphasis added).
Let me be clear that what is unhelpful about this attitude is not the idea that a parent or caretaker should take seriously their responsibility to care for and raise their children. I am also not objecting to the idea that a caretaker or parent’s involvement is key to the health and well-being of children. The unhelpful attitude here is the juxtaposition between “the village” and “the parents” when it comes to raising a child. These two elements do not have to be in tension. In fact, it is absolutely necessary to realize that both a child’s caretaker(s) and a child’s community are crucial to the child’s health and well-being.
Just as a community cannot replace the role of a caretaker, a caretaker cannot replace the role of a community.
As we saw earlier, the CDC notes that social isolation, family disorganization, and parental stress are risk factors for child abuse and neglect. These are the exact factors that result from when a family isolates itself from a broader community or support system. In contrast, the CDC also notes that “communities that support parents and take responsibility for preventing abuse” are themselves protective factors against abuse and neglect. When homeschooling families or organizations deride the importance of communities, therefore, they are deriding a key protection against abuse and neglect, and a key instrument in helping children deal with potential abuse and neglect in their lives.
Community serves as a protective factor for at least two reasons. First, it creates a support system around families to help them in areas where they are weak or susceptible to abuse and neglect. An engaged and supportive community can help “parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.” It is important to realize that not all caretakers or parents who abuse or neglect their children are intentionally doing so, let alone intentionally doing so simply to be cruel or evil. For example, a caretaker or parent overwhelmed with stress and worry may thoughtlessly hit their child, even when that adult is categorically opposed to physical violence. A caretaker or parent living in poverty may be unable to feed their child, even when that adult would never want their child to go hungry.
Having an engaged and supportive community can help such caretakers or parents by recognizing when they are overwhelmed and thus incapable of providing needed care to their children. An engaged and supportive community can get involved with a caretaker or parent is unable to provide needed care due to medical, economic, physical, or mental problems. In such situation, community members can step in and pick up the slack.
Earlier I mentioned that community can instill resiliency in children. In a similar manner, community can also instill resiliency in caretakers and parents, by helping them cope with stressful or painful moments in life. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says, “Community-level protective factors— such as a positive community environment and economic opportunities—enhance parental resilience.”
Second, community serves as a protective factor because it creates a support system around children to help them when their families do not or cannot. Often times children exposed to the same traumatic event will respond in dramatically different ways depending on how strong their extra-familial support system is. Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) observes that, “Research has consistently shown that perceived social support buffers against poor mental health outcomes… Individuals with good relationship experiences across different domains and across childhood, adolescence and adulthood are prone to demonstrate resilience. Social support, both inside and outside the nuclear family can facilitate recovery from trauma… The ability to find supportive relationships outside of the family helps overcome the [impacts] of abuse.”
Both of these reasons highlight just how important community is — and that it should be seen as partner with, not enemy to, caretakers and parents and their hope to raise healthy, beloved children. Homeschooling your children, especially in a family where one adult works full-time and the other teaches full-time, can be extraordinarily stressful at times. While many families are able to cope with that stress adequately, some families are not. Additionally, some homeschooling families are led by a single caretaker; other homeschooling families might be economically disadvantaged and thus need both caretakers to work. It is important, therefore, that families are connected with one another in an engaged, supportive network where they can look out for one another’s needs.
By embracing, rather than rejecting, the village, homeschooling caretakers and parents can create a better future not only for themselves, but also for their children.
For additional information:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Making Meaning Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide, link.
- Western Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities, “Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School, and Community,” link.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.