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The Normal, Drama-Free, Totally-Healthy Christian Homeschool Movement


Jan 2 2014
In a culture that loves shock value, typical evangelicalism rarely makes news.

When I was in high school, purity balls marked the passing of another year, conferences taught me not to hold hands until I married, and women discussed whether pursuing a career would betray their God-given calling to marriage.

I was in the thick of conservative homeschooling culture. When American Prospect published Kathryn Joyce's recent article on the "apostates" among us, I took note. In fact, I couldn't stop reading. It was a little like watching a train wreck with family members on board.

Joyce's piece profiles several homeschooling horror stories—narratives of children raised by hypersensitive, overbearing parents, parents who used mental and physical punishment. The article ties those stories to the history and culture of the broader homeschooling movement, which became popular in the 1980s and spread in the last few decades to more than 2 million practitioners.

While I know the kinds of heartbroken children of homeschooling Joyce profiles, I also know the other side. For every mistreated homeschooled kid who's grown up to be an outspoken rebel against the culture — and I know a few — I know a half-dozen young adults who grew up to go to college, get a real job, and find a healthy place in society without too much drama.

I say this not to discount the experiences of those who have been hurt by the patriarchal and overbearing bent in some homeschool settings. Those hurts are very real, and I hope with all my heart that those people find the healing they search for. I pray that such cultures have less and less power to harm as the practice of homeschooling spreads and gathers cultural diversity. Articles like Joyce's and this Daily Beast article by Michelle Goldberg do their part to shine light on the dark places of the homeschooling world.

These articles also remind me of the danger of letting news define our view of the world. It's no secret that news highlights the odd, often at the expense of the normal. As Catholic novelist and journalist G.K. Chesterton noted in 1909, journalism's biggest flaw is that it is a "picture made up entirely of exceptions." Journalists, he said:

cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complete picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.

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