Those Homeschool “Apostates”

Kathryn Joyce seems to write against much of what I personally believe. She came out with an article in The American Prospect (“The Homeschool Apostates”) that challenges homeschooling, something of which I have a long and rich history. She makes an interesting connection between academic debaters and the homeschool movement, really stirring the pot of my world.

Read Kathryn Joyce’s article “The Homeschool Apostates.”

As you may know, I have advocated homeschooling for decades (see my history here). I also run Training Minds Ministry, an organization for academic debaters that pool debate coaches together, running camps and events dedicated to “training minds for action” as mandated in 1 Peter 1:13. Joyce’s article mixed both my homeschool and debate worlds.

This isn’t the first time our ideological paths have crossed. Kathryn Joyce was featured author on a CBS show that Wendy and I appeared in 2009. We were told it was a CBS show to be aired as “Quiverfull Moms” that would feature a number of mothers in a positive light, Wendy as one of them. It turned out to be aired on WE-TV (Women’s Entertainment) show Secret Lives of Women titled “Born to Breed.”

Yeah, we felt like we were set up. But we rolled with it. (Read about the show here.)

Back to Joyce’s recent article. It released on Wednesday. Here’s the gist of it: adult homeschoolers are rising up and challenging their upbringing. The most articulate of these challengers (whom she calls “apostates”) are academic debaters. Founders of the homeschool debate movement originally thought these debaters would lead a new wave of political conservatives. The subtitle suggests rebellion, “They were raised to carry the fundamentalist banner forward and redeem America. But now the Joshua Generation is rebelling.”

I encourage you to read the article. Bring its stories into the discussions you have with your homeschool friends. It would be a quick judgment to think Kathryn Joyce is trying to bring down home education itself. Well, maybe she is, I don’t know, but I caught a worthy message in the article: that abuse should never be condoned or tolerated.

Wendy and I have been a part of this conversation since our 2007 TLC show “Kids by the Dozen” (see the entire episode on YouTube here; it is a much friendlier take on our family than “Born to Breed”). Our book Love in the House exposes our part in what Joyce would perhaps call “apostasy.” Since that experience, we have articulated family life centered on love, as opposed to legalism. There is a narrow, stiff-necked community that centers on the latter, which is the community Joyce exposes in “The Homeschool Apostates.”

My only hesitation about Joyce’s article is that readers will think all of homeschooling is like this. I find two problems with the article: (1) it fails to put homeschooling in a positive light, and (2) it lifts the title from another, making it sound like this is a rebellion against homeschooling. I hope these problems don’t threaten the greater child abuse discussion, a discussion that has helped families exit and heal from harmful ideologies. As long as debaters are leading the discussion, I have hope that these misunderstandings will be overcome.

Hasty Generalizations

Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (which I’ve read) attacked Bill Gothard’s ATI, Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum, and other groups who saw it their duty, I suppose, to populate the world with a patriarchal society. Her latest book The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption (I haven’t read this one) apparently exposes abusive adoptive parents and builds a sinister case against the adoption movement.

I see a routine here. It appears that Joyce generalizes an entire population of people by focusing on the heartbreaking abuse of some. A skilled debater sees through this. In debate lingo, this is called anecdotal evidence, poor argumentation that is only surface deep in proper persuasion. Emotional appeals will work for some, but to really persuade most people, debaters know enough to dig deeper, gather evidence with substance to help build the case that will change minds and hearts and even influence legislation.

Joyce’s article has no statistics, no cited convictions, no vindictive story beyond one-sided testimonials. She digs deep into the “extremist roots of fundamentalist homeschooling,” as if public education didn’t have its own extremist roots in its history. At best this article uncovers civil unrest in homeschool families. Civil unrest is a worthy topic, by the way, but this article can be read as an indictment on the entire homeschool movement.

I have appreciated Joyce’s exposition on legalism and patriarchy, just like I did in 2009 with large families. (Our show, it turned out, wasn’t as bad as the title “Born to Breed” suggested.) No matter what the movement, these are unhealthy fundamentals, and Joyce has been an advocate — as Wendy and I are — for freeing people from these teachings. Many will read her article as an overreaching attempt to attack homeschooling. That will be too bad.

Another way of looking at this: when we are hasty to generalize an entire group of people, we miss the crucial link that can actually persuade. Debaters are tasked with connecting claims to evidence, and the best debaters let the evidence guide them. If you start with a claim and attempt to validate it, you get sucked into prejudices and judgments that are faulty and unpersuasive. If anecdotal evidence is all that Joyce can come up with to expose a problem with homeschooling, then there is no link — or a weak one, at least — and the argument fails flat. Legislation or any action based on weak links will not bring healthy change.

My perspective of the status quo remains quite positive. Homeschooling, along with Joyce’s other peeves like large families and adoption, are awesome movements. There are some who are eager to condemn them, and Joyce — by throwing all her persuasion into anecdotal evidence — appears to be one of them. Like I said, I hope it doesn’t detract from the greater, healthier discussion that the debaters are bringing up.

Now onto these “shady” debate alumni. I know and love these young people. This is the other side of the discussion that I find fascinating.

This “Apostate” Business

Kathryn Joyce plays on a term that originated with Kevin Swanson, author of Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West. Unlike Joyce, Swanson is a homeschool speaker and advocate. I’m making my way through his book right now, and for the record, I’m finding it more problematic than Joyce’s writing. It’s like one big conspiracy theory. Swanson, as Joyce quotes him, has attacked the debate alumni as “prima donnas” and arrogant “big shots,” labeling them as apostates.

I think Joyce and Swanson both peg these young adults wrong. The debaters are not “apostates” who are attempting to destroy homeschooling. They are thinkers — compassionate ones, at that — who know how to find solutions to problems at hand. The most revealing part of Joyce’s article was when Ryan Stollar, a former champion debater, explained the contradiction between debate and certain leaders who attempted to control the debate narrative:

“You can’t do debate unless you teach people how to look at different sides of an issue, to research all the different arguments that could be made for and against something,” Stollar says. “And so all of a sudden, debate as a way to create culture-war soldiers backfires. They go into this being well trained, they start questioning something neutral like energy policy, but it doesn’t stop there. They start questioning everything.”

They are questioning — which I believe is a good thing — but they aren’t necessarily abandoning. An apostate is someone who has left a belief or principle (definition here). Perhaps some are abandoning homeschooling, but many of them are still appreciative of home education as a viable option for parents. These so-called “apostates” appear to be more adamant about removing the abuses from the movement.

As am I. This runs along the same compassion that influenced my wife and I — and hundreds of thousands of others, no doubt — to start homeschooling. The first generation were more the apostates, leaving behind the public school system and taking on the new alternative. It took sacrifice and love and sweat equity. When examples of abuse are exposed in our community, it is out of the ordinary, awkward, and upsetting. Abuse doesn’t fit, and it isn’t characteristic of the vast majority of homeschoolers.

I’ve gotten to know some of these “apostates” referenced in Joyce’s article. I appreciate Ryan Stollar and other former debaters like Willie Deutch, both quoted in the article. I’d like to get to know the others, especially those who came out of the debate movement. Perhaps Kathryn, like Kevin Swanson, made a similar mistake: she assumed these “apostates” were trying to bring down homeschooling.

I see it simply as what they were trained to do in debate: expose problems and solve them. Engrained in their thinking is a healthy three-step system that, when applied, helps make the world a better place:

  1. They identify problems in the status quo.
  2. They offer solutions to those problems.
  3. They explain the advantages to the solutions.

And what better group of people to point out homeschooling’s problems than the adults who have grown up from the first generation? I’m not offended by their observations, I’m rather fascinated. I like to take them seriously.

I have four adult children, and I am not offended at all when they point out my iniquities. Well, maybe I am sometimes, but just like most parents eventually learn, I get over it. There is nothing wrong with admitting imperfections to help steer a straighter course. I have 12 more children in line, and I’d like to correct that which I failed before I mess things up more. Children help make us better people, and in these examples of Homeschool Apostates, I believe they can help make home education better.

You know what? I thank God they’re debaters. They’re trained thinkers, skilled leaders, and persuasive action agents. That’s a heckava lot better than drugged out rebels lashing out at their parents, like my generation. These Joshua Generation young people are intelligent adults who are not easily swayed. They’re articulate, well-versed, educated and persuasive. They’re great debaters.

I hold a lot of hope in these “apostates.” They’re not enemies to homeschooling. They may just be the liberators. Maybe that’s a better title. “Homeschool Liberators.”

11 replies on “Those Homeschool “Apostates””

  1. As a former debater (back when it was HSLDA…yeah, I’m old), and I suppose homeschooling “apostate,” Mr. Jeub, I take issue with this. I could write reams of rebuttal/refutation here, but I’ll just address your statement that we are Homeschool Liberators (an awful word choice in the context of oppression and abuse many of us endured), rather than “apostates.” Sorry, but no. Your implication that we’re somehow refining the movement through benign questioning of its specific expressions trivializes the isolation and abuse that can only grow out of this *particular* type of sequestration from society, this *particular* type of religiosity, this *particular* type of patriarchy. At best, you are an enabler, giving legitimacy, credence, and rhetorical ammunition to those who take this brand of patriarchy “a little too far.” Casually tossing out an “abuse is never ok” disclaimer without acknowledging the socio-cultural underpinnings of the abuse–firmly grounded and rooted in the philosophies you yourself espouse–is insulting, and does little to remedy the cause. If we were “liberators,” Mr Jeub, we’d be storming the homes where we were tortured to retrieve our friends, siblings, and fellow captives by force, before they’re constrained to lives of depression, anxiety, and similar undue misery. If you want to mince words, you should be prepared to examine the full connotations of your syntax. I’ll remain an apostate, for now.

    1. Susanna, are you claiming that homeschooling necessarily constitutes “the sociological underpinnings of abuse”? That homeschooling necessarily isolates children and teens? That everyone who homeschools espouses the philosophy of “Christian” patriarchy? Are you claiming that there are no adults homeschooled as children who felt free and empowered through homeschooling? Are you claiming that there are no adults homeschooled as children who seek to change minds within the oppressive homeschooling fringe movements with the goal of liberating the children within them from that oppression? I’m appalled and saddened by your experience. However, it’s just not accurate to claim or imply that it defines reality for all homeschoolers.

  2. Hi Chris: I appreciated a lot of what you had to say in your article, but It sure seems like you made a blanket statement – the same thing you criticized Kathryn for when you wrote this:

    “They are questioning — which I believe is a good thing — but they aren’t necessarily abandoning. ”

    You spoke for them as a whole presuming to know where they are spiritually. That’s not our call to make. Yes, they are speaking out, processing what they went through, questioning many aspects of their life/spirituality, but these are adults now. They get to define who they are, not us. We do not own them.

    1. Chris wrote that “they aren’t necessarily abandoning.”

      That’s not an act of defining; it’s an observation. It’s not speaking for them as a whole. The word “necessarily” is a qualifier, allowing for the fact that there are those who are abandoning.

  3. Encouraging perspective! As a homeschooling father of nine, ages 7 to 22, I can especially appreciate where you said:

    “I have four adult children, and I am not offended at all when they point out my iniquities. Well, maybe I am sometimes, but just like most parents eventually learn, I get over it. There is nothing wrong with admitting imperfections to help steer a straighter course. I have 12 more children in line, and I’d like to correct that which I failed before I mess things up more. Children help make us better people, and in these examples of Homeschool Apostates, I believe they can help make home education better.”

    Amen! As we attempt to disciple our daughters and sons for Christ, Christ likewise disciples us through our daughters and sons. We are all in the same School of Christ. Yet it is possible to get unfocused. Christ said:

    “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)

    Much of the fallout we are seeing today, after a generation of homeschooling, is the result of fathers attempting to build individual family empires, not expand the Kingdom of Christ. A huge “demand” has been created by these empire-building fathers. As a result, a plethora of ministries have formed to “supply” their demand, ministries led predominantly by lack of actual experience and fruit.

    The leading characteristic of these fathers is that they are not focused solely on Christ and his words. The impetus of their life is not to be like Christ and see His Kingdom flourish by expansion of His blessing to all men. Instead they gravitate towards “old ways” and man-made regulations. They predominantly seek the welfare of their family, their little empire on earth. Bitterness has been the result. And bitterness, unlike praise and thanksgiving to God, is highly contagious as it is like candy to our fallen frame.

    We must get our focus on Christ and seek first His Kingdom and righteousness.

  4. With regard to the question of abuse, one of the main issues with homeschooling is that it makes possible abuse that is much more severe than is possible when a child attends an external school (public or parochial). The quite notable Hana Williams case is a strong example of that. If Hana had been in a school, it would have resulted in CPS being called given her many scars from being beaten and her severe malnutrition.

    Obviously though Hana’s case is extreme and not representative of many homeschooling families. However, it is a real danger to put parents who are disposed to abuse into a situation where no outside adult can raise an alarm.

    Child abuse is a real problem for children from all sorts of backgrounds, and as a practical matter, schools are one of the main avenues for discovering abuse.

    On that point, I would be interested to see you address the question of the Pennsylvania law discussed in Ms. Joyce’s article. It seems like there is an extremely strong public policy case for having limited oversight of homeschool parents who have been found to be abusive in the past. This isn’t saying that all or most homeschool parents are likely to be abusive, just that parents who have been abusive before are likely enough to be abusive again that it warrants state monitoring.

    1. I thought the same thing when I read about the Pennsylvania law. I thought, “Supervision over already-convicted child abusers? Who would be against that?”

      Come to think of it, I don’t think even the NRA is against gun laws toward convicted violent criminals. The Penn law seems logical, but I haven’t yet researched it.

      1. While the NRA supports gun laws toward convicted violent (and nonviolent) criminals, they oppose the background checks to enforce those laws. I think the situation with HSLDA is comparable here, supporting the laws banning child abuse, but opposing the laws necessary to bring about enforcement of the ban.

        That position has tension, but isn’t per-se contradictory. E.g. I support laws banning murder, but also support the right of the accused to have free legal counsel, even if that counsel sometimes hinders the ability to investigate and prosecute murders.

        The question is what is the balance between the interest in enforcing valid criminal laws and the interest in liberty of those who would be investigated.

        As regards the PA law, the interest in enforcement is greatly enhanced by the fact that the group being subjected to it is limited to people with prior convictions/findings for the criminal behaviour in question. Likewise, the liberty question is reduced because of the group limitation. A prior conviction for abuse plus specific behaviour which, while legal, puts the child in an environment where abuse is difficult to detect, creates a reasonable suspicion sufficient to permit a period of supervision.

Comments are closed.