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.
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.
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:
- They identify problems in the status quo.
- They offer solutions to those problems.
- 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.”