Statement on Homeschooling Leadership and Attacks on American Democracy

Approved by the CRHE Board of Directors, October 12, 2021

Last week, the New York Times reported that Michael P. Farris, founder and current board chair of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), played a key role in attempts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. According to the Times, Farris helped recruit Texas attorney general Ken Paxton to file a constitutionally and ethically dubious complaint against Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin, and wrote an initial draft of the complaint Paxton eventually filed. The Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit shortly after receiving it.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education, the nation’s only nonpartisan advocacy organization founded and run by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, affirms our support for free and democratic elections and condemns these reported efforts by HSLDA’s founder to undermine American democratic processes. Farris’s attempts to overthrow the election are merely the latest entry in a long record of allowing and encouraging harm to others, including homeschooled children, in pursuit of his extremist political goals. His history of extremism has left a regrettable mark on the culture of the modern homeschooling movement.

Under Farris’s leadership, HSLDA has led efforts to strip away basic legal protections for homeschooled children in every state. Farris’s speeches, fiction, and rhetoric have encouraged a subculture of fear and hostility toward child protection efforts that undermines attempts to ensure the safety of homeschooled children who are abused and neglected. The anti-child sentiments that Farris nurtured in HSLDA were reflected in 2005, when an HSLDA attorney said of a father who imprisoned his children in cages, “I think he is a hero.” In the absence of necessary legal protections, at least 156 children have been murdered in homeschool settings over the past twenty years, a rate higher than the national average among school-age children.

Farris has long promoted extremist views that stand outside the values of mainstream Americans. His opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every other country in the world, is largely responsible for preventing its ratification in the United States. Alliance Defending Freedom, where Farris is currently president and CEO, is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its record of anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry. Overall, Farris has tried to lead the homeschooling movement toward a position that views children as property to be indoctrinated into service as soldiers for his culture war.

CRHE believes that homeschooling can be a valuable and enriching experience when done responsibly, and we have an affirmative vision for the homeschooling movement, laid out in our Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children. We call on homeschool alumni, homeschooling parents, legislators, and all those who love and care for homeschooled children to reject the antidemocratic extremism espoused by Michael Farris and to join us in promoting a vision of homeschooling that is child-centered, fact-based, inclusive, and empowering for all homeschooled children.

U.S. Census Report Showing Massive Increase in Homeschooling is Premature

For Immediate Release: Group run by homeschool alumni urges caution in predicting changes in homeschooling

09/27/2021—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) urges caution in predicting changes in homeschooling based on data from recent U.S. Census reports. “As an organization founded and run by homeschool alumni since 2013, CRHE has diligently monitored data on homeschooling trends in the U.S.,” says Dr. Jeremy C. Young, CRHE’s acting executive director. “We want Americans to know the context behind the data so that they can understand how homeschooling numbers are actually changing.”

As the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic caused rapid changes in education in spring 2020, the U.S. Census responded by instituting the Household Pulse Survey, an online survey sent to a random selection of addresses continuously since April 2020. According to a March 2021 Census report, the percentage of US households with school-age children who reported homeschooling nearly doubled between April and September 2020, reaching a high of 11%. “CRHE commends the Census for responding so rapidly to collect such important data,” said Young. “Increased data collection on homeschooling benefits everyone. However, there is considerable reason to be skeptical about the magnitude of the homeschooling increase predicted by these studies.”

There is no one single definition of homeschooling, as CRHE argued in our peer-reviewed study “Who counts as homeschooled? The case of Alaska’s correspondence schools” published in 2020 in the journal Other Education. The dizzying array of educational options available to parents — including online and virtual public or private school programs, public and private school correspondence programs, part-time school enrollment, and states where homeschools are legally considered private schools — leads to a high degree of error in self-reported statistics on homeschooling.

Studies such as the National Household Education Survey, conducted every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), ask parents to verify in multiple ways that a child is homeschooled, leading to a reliable national estimate of homeschooled students. But “if you just ask parents point-blank whether their children are homeschooled, as the Census did, you’ll get widely varying results depending on how you phrase the question,” said Dr. Chelsea McCracken, CRHE’s research director. “There’s a good chance the Census numbers include parents who intend to enroll their children in remote learning and other school-based programs, as well as parents who say they intend to homeschool just because they’re frustrated with all the options.”

So what are the real numbers? According to NCES, the percentage of students who are homeschooled rose from 1.7% in 1999 to 3.4% in 2011-2012 and then declined slightly through 2019. Enrollment data from South Dakota and California suggest that homeschooling increased by around 20-30% during the pandemic, far less than the Census data indicates.

“While it’s reasonable to expect a modest increase in homeschooling due to safety concerns about school attendance during the pandemic, we should be careful in jumping to conclusions about how the education system will change as a result,” said McCracken. “Though some parents have, as a result of the pandemic, realized that home-based learning works well for their families, other parents are desperate to send their children back to school. Twenty years of data shows that homeschooling only appeals to a small percentage of the population, and the experiences of homeschool alumni indicate that homeschooling works best only under certain conditions.”

Homeschooled children ​​lack guaranteed access to programs intended to promote child welfare, including food and nutrition programs, age-appropriate sex education, monitoring for child abuse and neglect, and professional college and career counseling. Additionally, current homeschooling laws have few measures in place to ensure that homeschooled children receive the care and education they deserve. Earlier this year, CRHE published a Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children, a vision for homeschooling that details how children’s academic, physical, mental, and social wellbeing can best be supported by their parents and communities. The Bill of Rights is the most recent addition to CRHE’s comprehensive collection of guides and resources for home educators.

“At CRHE, we advocate for homeschooled children’s right to a quality education in a safe, loving home,” said Young. “As awareness of and interest in homeschooling continues to change, the need for responsible oversight to protect these children’s rights is more urgent than ever. While homeschooling can be an excellent educational option, we need more protections to ensure the best possible outcomes for homeschooled children.”

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.


Amber Moore: “Nobody could help me except myself”

The cognitive dissonance grew so intolerable that it took me down a road that led me to throw away many of the beliefs I grew up having.

I am 25 years old and I am the middle child of five. We were all homeschooled from a very early age up to adulthood. My family moved to Connecticut when I was young. My father made sure we went to a state with little homeschooling legislation. When my mother got arrested for assaulting our neighbor, they decided that the best course of action was to move to another state with little legislation – Texas. Then more recently when they ran out of money, they sold the house and moved to another “great” state for homeschooling – Missouri. There, my oldest sister still lives with and financially supports my able-bodied parents and two younger siblings. She is in her 30s and has never dated.

The second oldest, like me, has moved out and done well starting her own life, but still wrestles with the trauma of our upbringing. She still has nightmares and has to fight the urge toward self harm when she remembers the things that happened. My parents would sit her in a chair for hours and scream at her in an attempt to “exorcise her demons”. She has ADHD and bipolar disorder and thus didn’t always behave or respond to orders the way my parents wanted her to. She was reprimanded for going on her own to get that diagnosis because my mother believes psychiatry is all lies, and that she just needs to pray harder to solve her problems.

My younger brother I believe has undiagnosed autism. Growing up, they always said he’s just “slow” as it took him a long time to learn to read. My grandfather has tried to help him with things on a few occasions, to have him visit and learn a trade such as carpentry. My mother got into hysterics at this idea. She thought he was trying to steal my brother away. She always talked about her father like he is this great villain, but looking back, I honestly can’t see a thing that he did wrong. He just disagreed with the way we were raised, and he asked too many questions.

My younger brother and sister still live at home with my parents, and I occasionally talk to them. I want to be a good influence for my siblings, but I know they are still under my parents’ thumb and have little autonomy. I wonder how they will fare when they have to get a job and go into society. I have looked into Child Protective Services and they said that unless physical abuse is apparent, the state won’t do anything. I looked into what legislation exists to address the educational neglect but there are no regulations for that. There are no standardized tests, no level of education expected of children of any age. My siblings are severely behind in reading, math, and basic social skills. They are now grown up into adulthood and are going to have to make up for all the lost time on their own.

I had a panic moment when I turned 18. I was still living at home and I felt like I didn’t learn anything, and I needed to figure out what I was going to do with my life. My father told us not to go to college unless we knew exactly what we were going to do since it’s a waste of money. So, I started working and waited 2 years to take my GED since I didn’t feel like I had learned enough. We did not have any transcripts or diplomas, so the only evidence that I learned anything, aside from a few “books read” lists, was that GED. I was getting tired of living in the house and giving my whole foodservice paycheck to my parents, who refused to get a job, so I started getting a little sassy. It was around this point that in a fit of rage, my mother called me a b****, struck me with a glass bottle, then broke the bottle and threatened to stab me with it. All the while my father was quivering in the corner. My older sister jumped in and disarmed my mother. I left the house, slept in my car in a Walmart parking lot, and didn’t even think to call the police. Shortly after, I was so desperate to move out that I found someone looking for roommates on Craigslist. Since then, I have gotten a good apartment, job, and boyfriend and am about to finish my degree. But I still feel weird around people since I was kept inside the house most of my life. I wonder often if I am doing/saying things wrong, and I’ve definitely missed out on a lot of culture. It has been fun to find new friends and catch up on those things.

When asked, my parents would say the main reason they decided to homeschool is because public schools do not provide an adequate education, but the real reason is that they didn’t teach the kinds of things my parents wanted us to learn. The homeschooling was religiously motivated. My parents have an interesting view of the world. You could say we were Evangelical Christians, but really, I think that my parents have created their own denomination since they disagreed with nearly everyone else and amalgamated a combination of beliefs that no other church could match. We had tried going to churches but always left a few months in as everyone was either “too worldly” or “too religious”. My father told us that we weren’t isolated, we were “protected”.

Some of the main tenets of my families’ beliefs:

  • My mother is spiritually gifted as she can feel and hear the demons and angels and powers and principalities around us, acting in and through people every day. Whenever my siblings and I would get into arguments she would describe it as “your demons fighting with their demons”. I think it is very likely she has a form of schizophrenia.
  • The government is in a New World Order conspiracy, that we are living in the End Times, and that the 5 of us kids are going to grow up to perform miracles, healing the sick and casting out demons as predicted in the Bible. My father ascribes to a lot of internet conspiracy theories. My mother liked to think she was Sarah Connor from the Terminator series, raising her children to be the savior during the apocalypse.
  • Education and socializing (or what my father described as BS-ing / A**-Kissing) are not necessary. What is important is that our hearts are kept pure and that we are being prepared for the End Times.
  • As well as your other Classic Homeschooling Themes: don’t have sex until you are married, don’t consume any media that has witchcraft in it (Harry Potter, Pokémon for some reason, etc.), don’t associate with people who do any of the above things, just a general dislike of “the culture”. Science is full of lies; evolution/global warming are hoaxes.

That last bit was the one that made me question things the most since I have always been a lover of science. The cognitive dissonance grew so intolerable that it took me down a road that led me to throw away many of the beliefs I grew up having. This was very uncomfortable for me as I felt I had no grounding. No friends, no family, no place to go. I felt so alone, so helpless. Nobody could help me except myself. So, I waited, and I did help myself. But now my siblings are still in that house and I feel there is nothing I can do.

I support oversight of homeschooling because my own experiences taught me that when someone is homeschooled, there is nobody who can save children from the whims and beliefs of their parents. Because of the current laws, a parent can say they are homeschooling and be free to brainwash, neglect or abuse their children, under absolutely no scrutiny from the government. I’ve seen family members wish they could help and have absolutely no influence. I myself wish I could help my siblings but I know that whatever I tell them will be twisted by my mother, who is skilled at making other people out to be the villain. All the while she has gotten away with being abusive with no repercussions. Me and my siblings have had our youth, money, and futures taken away from us by our selfish parents. This could have been avoided if homeschooling oversight could provide a little more accountability for our parents.

Amber Moore was homeschooled in Connecticut and Texas beginning in the early 2000s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

Mary T.: “Homeschooling tends to attract parents who value control”

“I was terrified to make my own decisions, unsure of my ability to survive outside of my parents’ controlling framework.”

I was my family’s “first.” The first to learn to read at home. The first to complete K-12 without ever attending school. The first to fully benefit from this great experiment full of boundless potential and equally boundless expectations.

I was five when my parents pulled my older brother and sister out of school and started homeschooling. My mom, terrified, turned to God and Sing Spell Read & Write to teach me to read. I’m not sure about God’s involvement in my mastery of vowel sounds and that first deciphering of “Sam pet the cat,” but to my mom’s great relief I duly began reading within the 30 days allotted by the program.

My ability to read exactly on schedule became part of family lore. It boosted my mother’s confidence and confirmed what became two foundational beliefs of our homeschooling journey: 

  1. God had called my family to homeschool. Educating children at home, away from secular influence and in the sanctifying environment of the family was the highest calling of Christian families. God was and would continue to reward that obedience.
  2. With the right tools, anyone can teach a child.

“Anyone,” in our case, was mom. A voice major turned liberal arts major who didn’t finish the last few credits of her college degree, she struggled with feelings of inadequacy as she eventually guided all four of her children through high-school graduation. 

Thanks to her tireless efforts, willingness to outsource and a comfortable budget, my siblings and I had access to great books, private tutors, co-ops and homeschool classes. I was lonely, but I wasn’t totally isolated, either. I grew up around, if on the periphery of, a large and thriving homeschool community. For the most part, these parents wanted to give their kids a quality education. 

In the culture wars of the late 80’s and early 90’s, my fundamentalist family and many of those around us viewed public schools as bastions of socialism, atheism and sex. North Carolina public schools also consistently ranked among the worst in the nation academically. And who could send four kids (like my family, although many around us had six or more) to a private, classical Christian academy that cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 per year?

Educationally, my homeschooling was a positive experience. I attended a small Christian college, graduated with honors, flirted with law school, and found my way to financial independence and a stable career.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up around kids whose moms were “chill.” I remember being jealous that they didn’t have to be showered, dressed, and at their desks by 8 a.m. sharp. That they maybe fit in a few hours of school each day. But I worried about the kids whose parents made even the structure of a daily shower optional. I remember seeing those kids of chill moms graduate or simply stop schooling at 18. Those who didn’t marry immediately seemed lost – unprepared for an adulthood that didn’t include babies or Christian ministry.

I support homeschool oversight because I believe that every child has the right to access an education that prepares them for financial security, social development and personal fulfilment on their own terms.

I also support homeschool oversight for different reasons. 

In my observation, homeschooling tends to attract parents who value control. When your family is as dysfunctional as mine, home is not always a happy place. In fact, it’s usually a scary, unsafe place. And when home is all you have, you don’t know any different. 

I first realized that my dad was abusive when I was almost out of high school. My parents were giving me Biblical counseling resources, so that I could counsel myself and my friends with Biblical Truth at college. Ironically, it was in these books that I stumbled across the term emotional abuse. A lightbulb went off.

I started going to bed with my iPhone, hiding under the covers, and googling emotional abuse. Check. Then spiritual abuse. Check. Then physical abuse. Do near-daily spankings with a wooden spoon or rubber belt until early teens count as physical abuse? What about when you’re hit until you cry real tears (because eventually you learn to fake cry so it’ll stop sooner)? Check and check.

By the time I left home for college at 18, I couldn’t wait to escape. I was also nervous. When I said goodbye to my parents outside my dorm, I threw up. I was terrified to make my own decisions, unsure of my ability to survive outside of my parents’ controlling framework.

When I came home from my first semester of college, my family wouldn’t stop talking about this “new Mary.” In just four short months, I’d found safe spaces and friends who patiently allowed me to come out of my shell of loneliness and fear. I’d blossomed.

It took me over five years after leaving for college to finally break free from my parents’ orbit of abuse and control. I realized that, if I wanted to continue earning their approval, I would forever need to give up a sizable measure of control over my own life.

I’d been trained to need their approval like I needed air. I still don’t know where I found the strength to assert my independence. Even then, I still wanted them in my life. But just like when they drove away from my college dorm, forcing me to do college on my own, they made the decision easy for me. They disowned me. I’ve grown to view that decision as the most truly loving act I ever experienced from them. In their last, most ferocious attempt to assert control, they unwittingly, finally set me free.

I support oversight for homeschool families because no family is perfect. Most families are less dysfunctional than mine, but most kids also have access to a world outside of the home. Every child deserves to know that there is a world outside that cares. With more oversight, maybe someone would have seen my loneliness, my desire to play sports and to socialize. Maybe I could have had access to career counseling, which certainly would have helped me feel less lost when choosing a major for college. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have had to wait 18 years to start living in freedom.

Mary T. was homeschooled in North Carolina from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

Homeschool Group Publishes Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children

For Immediate Release: Group run by homeschool alumni identifies vision for empowered and responsible homeschooling

04/29/2021— The Coalition for Responsible Children (CRHE) has released a Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children. “As an organization founded and run by homeschool alumni since 2013, CRHE understands homeschooling’s holistic impact on a child’s life,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, CRHE’s co-founder and past executive director, who spearheaded the Bill of Rights project. “Homeschooling has the potential to provide children with either an empowering, fulfilling experience or an abusive, deprived one,” Coleman adds. “At CRHE, we advocate for homeschooled children’s right to a quality education in a loving, safe, and supportive home; in our Bill of Rights, we’ve outlined what that looks like.” The group’s statement details how homeschooled children’s academic, physical, mental, and social wellbeing can best be supported by their parents and communities. “We want to inspire both parents and policymakers to center homeschooled children’s rights and focus on their needs,” says Coleman.

Millions of homeschooled children lack guaranteed access to programs intended to promote child welfare, including food and nutrition programs, age-appropriate sex education, monitoring for child abuse and neglect, and professional college and career counseling. Additionally, current homeschooling laws have few measures in place to ensure that homeschooled children receive the care and education they deserve. The lack of oversight of homeschooling families enables sustained and unchecked campaigns of abuse against homeschooled children, such as the tragedies experienced by the six Hart children, starved and eventually killed by their adoptive parents, and the thirteen Turpin children, whose parents were charged with torture and child endangerment. Other types of abuse and educational neglect, also unique to homeschooling, are less extreme but still traumatic: withholding identity documents from children, as Alecia Faith Pennington experienced, or depriving them of basic writing and math skills, as in Josh Powell’s case.

The Bill of Rights includes articles on care and safety, education and future, friendships and community, physical and mental healthcare, disability, adoption, expression and belief, and autonomy and independence. It was written collaboratively by the nonprofit’s staff members, board members, and volunteers, most of whom are homeschool alumni. It features contributions from those who have personal experience with violations of the rights in question, such as survivors of child abuse and educational neglect, transracial adoptees, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. CRHE’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve the document, whose release coincides with National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.

The idea for the Bill of Rights emerged from CRHE’s current statement of vision, written in 2019: “Homeschooled children’s right to a comprehensive and empowering education and a safe and supportive home environment is affirmed and protected by laws, stakeholders, and society as a whole.” After drafting the statement, several staff and board members wanted to articulate a detailed description of how this vision could be realized. “CRHE’s policy recommendations,” Coleman notes, “lay out the basic legal requirements to protect homeschooled children from severe abuse and educational neglect. But the Bill of Rights goes further: it imagines what homeschooling would look like in an ideal world.”

The Bill of Rights is inspired by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been signed by every country in the world except for the United States — in part because of the opposition of prominent homeschooling leaders. “The Convention’s structure, organization, and focus on universal human rights inform every part of the Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children,” Coleman explains. “Each individual right described in the Bill of Rights has been formulated in response to one or more documented cases of human rights abuses toward homeschooled children.”

“I commend Dr. Rachel Coleman and the entire CRHE staff and board for developing this outstanding document,” says Jeremy C. Young, interim executive director of CRHE. “The Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children stands as a profound vision of what homeschooling can be and should be: empowering children to lead fulfilling lives, free from child abuse and educational neglect.”

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.

Sage N.: “My parents were clearly unprepared to be teachers”

Some level of oversight would have really helped me because I think my parents would have felt compelled to keep up with my education far more than they did, and it may well have prevented my experience from also happening to my sibling.

I was home educated by my parents from birth to age 16. As an adult, I have since discovered that what happened to me is known as ‘unschooling’ and constitutes nowadays as educational neglect. Coming to terms with this has been, and continues to be, an incredibly difficult journey which has permanently altered the way I view my parents and other adults who choose to home educate their children. The education I received mostly occurred between the ages of 4 and 8, at which point my younger sibling was born and I found myself being given less and less educational work to do and more childcare duties. From around the age of 11, I essentially taught myself everything I know today using the internet, including learning about sex and reproduction via fanfiction websites and pornographic popups that would appear during my web browsing. I can count on the fingers of my hand the things I was actually taught by my parents after age 11. This includes 3 short essays I was asked to write and being given a decade-old A Level book that had been my mother’s. 

There was no structure to most of my education. Moving into broader territory, another issue was money. Both my parents quit their jobs to raise and home educate me. This directly impacted how much socialisation I ended up getting. Classes, groups and clubs often cost money to attend, and require you to stay in one place. Our (avoidable) poverty also set me up with a troubled relationship with money. I still directly equate my own self worth with how much money I make. My parents having no jobs meant we had the freedom to move whenever we liked. So we did. While culturally enlightening, this also meant I maintained no friendships, and by age 9 had given up trying to make friends outside of the internet because I knew we would probably just move away from them again. 

The thing that sticks out in my mind looking back was the way my parents were clearly unprepared to be teachers. Neither of them had finished university and neither had the patience to teach a child. My father would become progressively louder the more I didn’t understand something, which would stress and panic me to the point that I couldn’t work out the problem in front of me, and my mother gave up teaching me maths problems if I started to cry over any of them. I thought it was my fault for not being clever enough, and not simply already knowing everything. This insecurity has followed me for the rest of my life, to the point where I internalise every mistake I make and every simple problem I can’t figure out. 

Some level of oversight would have really helped me because I think my parents would have felt compelled to keep up with my education far more than they did, and it may well have prevented my experience from also happening to my sibling. The main thing I would say to anyone considering home education is this: When you home educate your children, it relies on you alone to do the job of parent, teacher, emotional support and counsellor. It is worth bearing in mind that as a child, it can be difficult to grow up with just two people who are your sole authority figures with no one else to be a sounding board. You essentially learn never to question anything they say, because there is no alternative viewpoint from which to construct a unique opinion. My partner pointed out to me some time ago that the reason I have some boundary issues with my parents was because I didn’t have anyone else growing up to bounce off. If you are a child and your parents are mad at you, you can talk to a nice teacher. If your teacher reprimands you, you can talk to your parent and they’re separate from the situation somewhat and can give impartial support that is emotionally detached from the issue. 

In the UK, parents still have rights to educate their children in whichever way they see fit, with no input from the government unless abuse is suspected or reported. All the trauma and abuse I experienced was emotional, verbal and mental, and went under the radar. If I had known at the time what life was really like for other children, how balanced their lives were, maybe I could have contacted someone. I just thought that was what childhood was like. I never want another child in this world to experience what I have experienced.

Sage N. was homeschooled in the UK from the early 2000s to the early 2010s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

Hope M.: “I don’t even know how many people knew we existed”

“There were certainly several years in which we didn’t take any sort of test. There was no way for me, as a child, to connect with anyone outside of my household. There was no way for anyone to even see that I existed.”

I am the middle child out of five sisters (I’m smack in the middle). My sisters and I were all homeschooled all the way through school, never once attending any other sort of public or private school. While homeschooling can be a great experience, the lack of oversight creates a breeding ground for abusers to trap their children in a hostile environment. 

My father and mother emotionally and mentally abused me for years, resulting in me now having PTSD, depression, and anxiety. I have found out that my father sexually abused at least one of my sisters, and my oldest sister physically abused me from the time she was in middle school through when she was in college. I didn’t know of any way to tell anyone, and to be honest, I don’t think I even knew that it wasn’t “normal” or “okay.” 

We never took part in a homeschool co-op or anything like that. We were barely allowed to leave the house. I don’t even know how many people knew we existed, since we were never allowed to make friends at a park, or go anywhere by ourselves, or ever, ever speak to an adult who wasn’t our parent. Thankfully, I was able to make some friends through a library book club as a teenager (which I am still unsure of why my parents let me attend, but very glad that I did). But even though I could be out of my parents’ sight, I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone about the abuse happening behind the scenes. I was terrified that things at home would get even worse if my parents found out that I had anyone, and I also doubted that anyone would believe me, since my father somehow could convince anyone that he was a stand-up guy. 

As I drew closer to the end of high school, my parents essentially gave up on overseeing any of my education. For years I had simply been given textbooks and told to teach myself through them, but when my parents stopped checking them, I just stopped using them. I spent half of 11th grade reading novels that I hid under the edge of the table if my mother happened to walk by. While I am forever grateful that my Language Arts curriculum was intensive yet easy for me to do on my own, I am still stunted by my lack of math and science education. In high school, I only took one math “class”: Algebra 1. I didn’t even finish the book. It was too difficult for me to follow on my own, and my parents refused to help. So I just never finished. I also never took biology or chemistry, and my “science” books literally mostly talked about how climate change isn’t real. 

I was really looking forward to “graduating” and getting out of that house, and my parents let me go visit some colleges, although they tried very hard to convince me not to go. I was also, thankfully, able to convince them to let me take the ACT. However, to apply to college, I needed a transcript. My father drew one up for me… And it was wildly inaccurate. I guess I was a star student who got A’s in everything, despite never doing some subjects. They said that I had taken 2 years of Japanese, even though I’d only studied it for a few months. They said that I got A’s in Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, and that I had taken completely different science “courses.” Despite feeling wrong about submitting that “transcript,” I used it to apply for college, and I was accepted. Though I then did very well in college (graduating magna cum laude), I spent much of college stressed that the administration would somehow find out how much of a lie that transcript was. 

That brings me to today. Today, I am a happy 24-year-old, married to a wonderful spouse, have a great job, and am working on a master’s degree. However, many others were not so lucky. I know that there are thousands of others who were homeschooled and were not able to get out of their terrible situations, and that those who did survive abusive homeschooling situations may not have found it so easy to adapt to the “real world.” I know that my older sisters certainly are not well-adjusted. 

Homeschooling can be great. Many of my friends in college were homeschooled, albeit in far better home situations with caring, loving, education-supporting parents. And as I stated before, my Language Arts curriculum put me well above my peers in English college classes. I am considering homeschooling my future kiddos. But if I do, it will look far different than my own situation. 

I was homeschooled in Minnesota for the entirety of my childhood education. Minnesota’s laws are extremely lax regarding homeschooling. My parents simply had to tell the state that we had taken a standardized test (no scores necessary). There were certainly several years in which we didn’t take any sort of test. There was no way for me, as a child, to connect with anyone outside of my household. There was no way for anyone to even see that I existed. I was completely isolated from the outside world, and no one ever checked in to see if we were okay. If someone had been able to check in on me as a child, I would not have endured over a decade of abuse. My sister may not have been sexually abused. I would not feel ashamed for lying on my high school transcript, and I would have perhaps discovered a love for science or math. There are so many “what ifs.” 

I do believe that most parents should be able to homeschool. I do believe that parents and children should have freedom of choice of curriculum. And I firmly believe that students and their home situations should be assessed by trained professionals in order to spot potential abuse and stop abuse before it gets worse. Homeschooling will not be stifled by more oversight, and it is sorely needed to protect vulnerable children.

Hope M. was homeschooled in Minnesota from the early 2000s to the mid-2010s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

Danielle C.: “The state never followed up on my education”

“Enforcing the current requirements that Indiana has in place could help to prevent children like me from slipping through the cracks.”

As Gloria Steinem said, “The final stage of healing is using what happens to you to help other people.” In 2019, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD stemming from the years of isolation and neglect I experienced during my childhood. I was homeschooled in the ‘90s and early 2000s in the state of Indiana. From birth through my “graduation” at age 18, my mother oversaw my entire education. In Indiana, there are very few regulations on homeschooling families. The regulations that are in place are hardly ever enforced. I was never checked in on by anyone from the state; my siblings were never checked in on by anyone from the state; not a single homeschooling family I knew or currently know have ever been checked in on by anyone from the state. 

I love my parents and I maintain a good relationship with them, but I was failed in my education and upbringing. I was mostly given books and told to read them or go through the worksheets on my own. There was very little structure and almost no oversight. I stopped doing math around the time I should have been in the 7th or 8th grade. The last science I remember being assigned was a high school level physics course. I remember the cover of the book being green and nothing else. I sat with that book in my lap for two years and never completed a single exercise, experiment, chapter, or test. On my final high school transcript that my mother and I filled out together, I was given an overall grade of a B in physics. The state simply trusted that what was written on my graduation transcript was the truth. I worked two jobs my senior year of high school, including one for the county government. I worked 39.5 hours per week as a 17-year-old senior in high school for the local government and no one from the state came to check up on me. I took the SAT. I borrowed my brother’s calculator to take with me. I didn’t know how to use it and had never used one before. The last math I recall doing was learning long division. I remember giving up while learning fractions. SAT level algebra was so far above my own education level that I scored in the bottom 10% in the state and bottom 5% in the nation on the math section. Even with a tangible test score on my record, the state never followed up on my education. 

I am the youngest child in my family and the only girl. In a homeschooling family this means that most of my time was spent alone. Much of my childhood is a blur with no distinct concept of time. I remember spending days, weeks, months, and years in my bedroom alone just reading or listening to music. I wasn’t always allowed to play sports with my brothers and time with church friends was severely limited. When the isolation and loneliness became too much I would break down and cut myself. I didn’t have much experience with people and wasn’t good at making friends, so I ended up having a few people take advantage of me. Including one man who sexually assaulted me because I didn’t know how to strongly say “no”. I remained friends with him afterwards because I didn’t know how else to make friends.

I am now a 30-year-old woman with no high school diploma, no GED, and no college degree. I took remedial classes at the local community college, gained entrance into a local public university based on these classes and my falsified high school transcript, and began having severe panic and anxiety attacks during my final year. I dropped out. I have tried to go back multiple times, but I have not yet had the strength to overcome my mental illness in order to finish my degree. I do however have the strength to fight for the educational rights of other children. 

Enforcing the current requirements that Indiana has in place could help to prevent children like me from slipping through the cracks. Creating new requirements and guidelines for homeschooling parents could ensure that every child will, at the very least, have access to an adequate education. 

State oversight could also help curb child abuse. It is a commonly known tactic for abusers to isolate their victims. Homeschooling is the easiest way for an abusive parent to isolate their children from the outside world. They decrease the likelihood that the child will encounter a mandated reporter and they create an isolated life where abuse and pain is all the child has ever seen. In the state of Indiana and in many other states, it is highly likely that these children will never be checked in on by the state and therefore will never receive the help that they so desperately need. 

My goal is to use the pain that formed me to ensure that no child can be deprived of the vital human right that is an education. There is no parental right that trumps a child’s right to feel safe in their own home, to be properly socialized, to be appropriately monitored, and to be provided free access to an adequate education.

Danielle C. was homeschooled in Indiana from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

Amy W.: “Supporting homeschool oversight is the least we can do”

“I lived in a continuous state of fear and learned helplessness. I was afraid to make even the smallest decisions for myself.”

My family began homeschooling in 1991, the year my older sister was set to enter kindergarten. Our local public school had a terrible reputation, and my mother believed she could provide us with a better education by homeschooling us. My mother was in some ways a model homeschooling parent, or at least she was very disciplined about doing school every day, and I was given a high-quality education, at least according to my standardized test scores.

The problem, however, was that while my mother may have successfully taught me to do formal, written academic work, she didn’t teach me to do anything else. We didn’t follow a highly structured schedule and I never had homework or due dates or anything, so I never learned any sort of time management skills. My mother kept track of all of my books and papers, so I never learned any sort of organizational skills. We didn’t have opportunities to play in an active way, such as recess or PE, and my mother didn’t sign us up for sports, so I became weak and uncoordinated. We rarely did science labs or arts and crafts, so I never learned to do anything hands-on. I seldom had the opportunity to play with other kids, and when I did, my sister was there too, so I never learned to be independent in social settings or to speak on my own behalf. I learned to read and do math, but otherwise remained on the level of a helpless toddler.

My mother was manipulative and emotionally abusive. She would become frustrated with me if I made small mistakes or had the slightest difficulty with anything. She would sometimes demand that I defend or explain minor decisions (one time when I was helping her cook, she demanded to know why I was standing on the side of the table I happened to be standing on. I felt stupid, because I couldn’t provide her with a logical explanation). Sometimes she would make demands that were completely self-contradictory (one day she might be angry because a light had been turned out and the house was too dark, but then another day she might be angry because the same light had been left on and was wasting electricity). There was no telling what would set her off on any given day. She could literally become angry because you looked at her wrong. She was never empathetic to my distress. If I cried, I got a spanking. (This only applied to me: my sister was never spanked for anything.) I lived in a continuous state of fear and learned helplessness. I was afraid to make even the smallest decisions for myself, like deciding which side of the table to stand at when cooking, for fear that I might somehow be doing something wrong. There were hours at a time when I had nothing to do: my mother would only give me schoolwork and housework to do and I was left to my own devices for long periods, but I was too scared to initiate any activities of my own or to come up with my own ideas.

If I had been in school, my mother would not have had such complete control over my life because I would have been away from her during the day. I would have learned a much wider variety of skills, and I could have had frequent contact with people besides my mother, and learned how other people think and behave.

When I was in third grade, my family moved to a better school district, but we continued homeschooling. I spent fourth grade begging and pleading with my mother to enroll me in public school. She finally relented and I started public school for fifth grade. School was terrifying. Most of the time, I felt like I had no idea what was going on. My teacher was often frustrated with me, and my classmates looked down on me and picked on me. The problem wasn’t so much that I was missing any specific piece of factual information so much as I was missing certain pathways to learning new information: because my homeschool curriculum had only included reading and writing, I had never learned to follow along with spoken instructions or visual demonstrations. Because most graded assignments in public school are written, I was able to straggle along and make good grades, but I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t do art projects, play sports, make friends, or do anything besides pencil-and-paper bookwork. I’ve never met anyone who attended traditional school K-12 who has the kinds of problems that I have. To this day my communication skills in reading and writing greatly outstrip my skills in speaking and listening. I don’t drive, and I don’t believe I have the observational skills required to drive. I am thirty years old and still dependent on my parents. I have spent most of my adult life as isolated as I was during childhood. I’m glad I attended public school for grades 5-12, but it did not replace the experience of attending grades K-4.

I don’t exactly support homeschool oversight, because there is no type of oversight that would have helped me. The only thing that would have helped me would have been if homeschooling had simply not been an option for my mother. Homeschooling is not a workable method of education. It is a giant social experiment that has failed miserably and needs to be ended as quickly as possible. It is impossible for even the most dedicated parent to provide their child at home with the same rich variety of experiences that would be available at a real school, and homeschooling by its very nature cannot meet a developing child’s need to begin establishing independence from parents. No regulation will ever be able to change this fundamental flaw with the whole concept of homeschooling. For me personally, the most damning piece of evidence against homeschooling is that I’ve never known anyone who actually benefited from being homeschooled. I’ve known some people who liked being homeschooled, including my own sister, but these people are not discernibly different from people who were educated entirely in traditional schools. If a homeschool success story is one in which the student isn’t harmed, that’s not much for the homeschooling community to be proud of. If the best possible outcome of homeschooling is that the students grow up to be perfectly normal, there is no reason for homeschooling to continue existing.

Because homeschool families are so spread out and lead such private lives, there is no practical or effective way to monitor what they are doing. Even if it were possible to require every homeschooling family in the country to attend weekly interviews with social workers, that would not be enough–most homeschooling parents would feel no guilt about lying to social workers or evading the law completely. If you personally know a homeschooling family, you have no way of knowing what really goes on behind closed doors. Neither would a social worker who might visit once in a while. The only way to end abusive homeschooling is to end all homeschooling. If homeschooling became completely illegal tomorrow, the lives of thousands of neglected and abused children would improve, and nothing would be harmed but the egos of narcissistic parents.

As you read this, there are homeschooled children all across the country who are in the process of being slowly tortured to death by their own parents. If homeschooling became illegal tomorrow, perhaps those children’s lives could be saved. But because that’s not going to happen, we’ll learn those children’s names on the news in a few years’ time, after their mangled bodies have been discovered and it’s too late to help them. It is on these children’s behalf that I refuse to compromise on this issue, or to waste time pretending that homeschooling can somehow be made to work if only there were enough oversight, or to humor narcissistic homeschooling parents by assuring them that most homeschooling is good. The whole concept of homeschooling needs to be condemned wholesale and burned completely to the ground. I’m soaking it in gasoline; I dare you to light a match.

The current popularity of homeschooling should be considered a national crisis. Unfortunately, there are as of yet no organizations that have the nerve to stand up to homeschooling parents, or to treat the need for a complete ban on homeschooling with the urgency it deserves. Supporting homeschool oversight is the least we can do: if we can’t completely remove this cancerous tumor on society, perhaps we can at least keep it contained.

Amy W. was homeschooled in Georgia in the early to mid-1990s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

Reanna G.: “Homeschooling was not in MY best interest.”

My goal one day is to help give children a voice about whether or not they wish to be homeschooled or go to public school.”

I was homeschooled. It has to be the worst aspect of my childhood. I was raised by a relative, whom I called mother, and who ended up homeschooling me because I suffer from anxiety. (My biological parent thought it would be a great idea to have me be homeschooled so that I did not end up doing drugs behind the high school dumpster like she had.) I was behind in some subjects in school early on, and having panic attacks during class further prohibited me from learning. The idea was that if I was homeschooled, I would be able to learn more and focus better. (Mind you, I was not excruciatingly behind the rest of the class. I did not have an IEP, but I did attend a smaller reading group.) 

My complaints about homeschooling, and the reasons I would like to advocate for efficient accountability for the homeschool parent and student, have been on my heart heavy lately. My mother did not give me a choice of being homeschooled. Instead, I was forced to be homeschooled regardless of my own wishes, starting from the 5th grade up until I dropped out in my senior year because I needed to move out of my home due to various reasons. I feel that I was cheated out of having a sufficient education. There were months where I would not have the opportunity to study certain subjects like math or science because my mother did not have the time to teach me. 

I also had to help my sibling out considerably. My sibling is very smart but has a learning disability that makes it harder for them to keep up. Every single assignment we had, we had to do it together. I’m talking about if we had to read a 500 page book and write a report on it, we had to take turns reading the book out loud and write the paper together. Even in high school, we had to do every single assignment together. 

My mother’s religious agendas were also a hindrance to my learning. Instead of studying history in my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I was forced to read out loud the Old Testament and then the New Testament. Every subject in school was faith based. Because this naturally made me behind in history, when I needed to remove myself from my home at 18, my mother told me that I did not have enough credits in history to walk away with a high school diploma. She told me that I had sufficient credits in everything else to graduate except history because I was made to study the Bible instead. (I also took Spanish class for 6 years straight, plus Latin for two years, and German for two years. To my knowledge, that is a lot of language credits, and more than I feel like I needed to spend my time on.)

Life at home was likewise just as miserable. I was very sheltered and was only allowed to attend my church and church youth group. Although I enjoyed my church and youth group, I felt like I was shut off from the rest of the world. I was the rebel, however. Every rule my parents made, I found a way around. This later led me to pick up a two-year drinking habit and other unhealthy ways of coping with the rules and isolation. I was not “allowed” to have a cell phone, social media, wear makeup, listen to the radio, watch most t.v., go for a walk by myself, or date. Again, I did everything anyways in secrecy, but this is to just give a representation of the life I was expected to follow. 

Once I moved out/dropped out, my mother told me that if I wanted to get my high school diploma, I needed to take two history courses at the local community college that I had already been involved in, and that I would then need to contact my public school district for my transcript, and viola, I would have proof of graduating high school. I did not know it at the time, but this information was incorrect. I paid out of pocket for two history courses at the local community college, only to find out that the school district has no record of me ever being homeschooled. Even if there have been records of my being homeschooled, I know now that it is parents, and not school districts, that issue homeschool diplomas. At 22, I decided to get my GED; I passed on the first try. I wish I had known that trying to follow the requirements my mother told me would be a dead end, because if I had I would have just gotten my GED in the first place. I am currently working on an Associates in Human Services. 

My goal one day is to help give children a voice about whether or not they wish to be homeschooled or go to public school. Homeschooling can be great for some people, but for me, it was not. Although my family had the best of intentions, sheltering me and keeping me at home to school was not in MY best interest. My education suffered as did my need to be around other people. It is not healthy for a child to be home all day with family and have no opportunity to grow socially and academically like every other child gets to when they attend public school like a normal child. I should not have had to be my sibling’s helper, or stressed out because I had to take a year off from studying math because no one would teach me. 

Even though I am from Massachusetts where we have some of the more stricter laws regarding homeschooling, if you really look at them, they are not that protective for the child. Something needs to change, and I hope to be a part of that.

Reanna G. was homeschooled from 2006 to 2014 in Massachusetts.