Candice K.: “I do not think my story is rare or even exceptional.”

“I am sharing my story now because I have seen the society that I live in repeatedly fail its most vulnerable members, those who have no volition over their own lives. I have seen my neighbors’ children endure substantially increased abuse and neglect due to homeschooling during the pandemic, and others just not attend school at all because our government and its protocols of red tape and bureaucracy seem more concerned with protecting the rights of the adults abusing their children, than of the children being traumatized.”

Content Warning: This testimonial contains graphic descriptions of child abuse, and a brief mention of sexual violence against children.

I do not think my story is rare or even exceptional. In fact, in recent years, thanks to the power of social media, I have learned that my story is actually quite common among those who were “homeschooled” as children.

I am sharing my story now because I have seen the society that I live in repeatedly fail its most vulnerable members, those who have no volition over their own lives. I have seen my neighbors’ children endure substantially increased abuse and neglect due to homeschooling during the pandemic, and others just not attend school at all because our government and its protocols of red tape and bureaucracy seem more concerned with protecting the rights of the adults abusing their children than of the children being traumatized.

I am the oldest of four children. I was born and raised in West Palm Beach Florida by evangelical parents. It’s my understanding that both of my parents dropped out of high school and later went back to get either diploma equivalency or GEDs. My mother met a woman at church when I was about 6 years old. At that time, I was attending public school and while I didn’t love everything about school, I enjoyed it for the most part. This woman began to encourage (or what I now see as unduly influence) my mother to homeschool her children. My mother was filled with fear of the public education system by this woman and others, fears of all things secular and “worldly”. This woman also “encouraged” my mother to leave our mainstream denominational church and we began attending her small “non-denominational” church. My father blindly followed along to appease my mother.

This new church also had many homeschooling families. At this church I was bullied by my peers and adult Sunday school teachers. I was publicly humiliated in front of my peers repeatedly, and my brothers were sexually abused by the music ministers’ sons. Instead of going to the authorities, my mother “submitted” our family to the Pastor’s council, hich was “boys will be boys” and not to bring it up again. A year or two later we followed that same woman to a different non-denominational church. Although this new church was less toxic, the undercurrent of homeschooling families and church as the be-all end-all for life-altering decisions continued.

The church encouraged corporal punishment for children, with the parents swapping tips on how to avoid CPS intervention. I distinctly recall one conversation where a church member told my parents not to use a belt anymore as it could cause internal bleeding. Among their suggestions for a replacement was a large wooden paddle or the turning implement for window blinds. My mother loved to use scriptures such as Proverbs 13:24 or 23:13 and Ephesians 6:1-3 to endorse her physical abuse. To be clear we were hit with a wooden dowel, as well as being slapped across the head, face, or body. My mother laughed that we “did the rod dance” as we would scramble to get away from the beatings and had to be held by the arm so we could not run away. My father spanked us as well, but his were restrained. He talked to us before and after about why we were being spanked, he also hugged us afterwards and attempted to comfort us. My mother, however, seemed to take sheer pleasure in beating us. She frequently flew into rages and her face would suddenly switch. She enjoyed inflicting pain on us and would often smile or smirk during and after. I genuinely feared for my life on numerous occasions. We were also verbally abuse, stupid, and idiot were her favorites insults. We were hit for spilling milk or for not being able to follow instructions with one prompt. On numerous occasions we were left with welts or bruises on our backs or bottoms.

To pile onto this, my parents fought violently. My father never hit my mother, but his rages would destroy doors, plates, and walls. My mother frequently taunted my father and provoked him almost as if she wanted him to hit her. Only in my 30s did I realize it was domestic violence (since he never actually struck my mother). Because of this I was extremely parentified, often barricading my siblings in a room with me during the fights or whispering across the hall to them to stay hidden until it was all over.

During all this, our homeschooling was self-taught. The small effort my mom put towards education was on my younger brother who struggled to learn to read. My mother purchased textbooks secondhand. There were no lesson plans, no curriculum to speak of. We had books for various topics and a few computer programs (later when I was older), and we taught ourselves. My mother spent the majority of her time caring for my youngest sibling, or on the phone. She also left me to watch the siblings while she went to clean houses for extra money. When I came to algebra in early middle school, I was not able to teach myself. My mother was not capable either and she hired a tutor through the church, and he tutored me once a week. I made some progress however was not learning or implementing anything outside of those weekly sessions and 1–2-page homework sheets he assigned, as there was no oversight on my day-to-day work. At one point I was grading my own work using the back of my books or the teacher guide. I now can see how the trauma I was experiencing daily prevented me from learning as my brain was in a constant state of hypervigilance. I could not feel safe in my own home, so how could I possibly take in such complex concepts–and with little to no instruction to boot? I can’t remember what year I stopped taking the state-mandated annual compulsory test, but no one from the state or department of education ever followed up when I did.

Our social interactions consisted of church 3x a week and an all Christian/homeschooling 4-H club. My mother did everything in her power to keep us away from influences she feared. She was technically a member of a Christian homeschool organization and we did attend those events on occasion. However, since they cost money, it was not very consistent.

Around the age 10 I begged my parents to send me to private Christian school. They said they couldn’t afford to send us all, so that meant no one could go. Although I now know we were so poor I would have qualified for some type of scholarship or assistance, my mom didn’t even look into it. Around age 13 I begged again to attend high school. Most of the homeschoolers I knew were being allowed to attend public school. My mother stated our school district was too dangerous, with gangs and violence and she refused to use a relative’s address for me to attend a better school. It was around this time that I gave up on trying to teach myself at all instead I babysat full time for church families. My goal was to get as much money as possible, take the GED early and get out of my parent’s home ASAP. I eventually was approved to take the GED early (on my second request) and completed it right before my 17th birthday. My mother had no idea how to track credits or even apply for a HS diploma, so this was my only way forward.

Due to my experience as a “homeschooler” I am now passionate about advocating for more regulation and accountability for children. If I had been in school, I would have had a haven (even if only for part of the day) from all the abuse and neglect I experienced. I struggled my way to a bachelor’s degree, an accomplishment that I am proud of, as I didn’t even know what an essay was when I enrolled in college. My hope is that no more children will have the experience I had. I firmly believe children need a diverse peer group as well as numerous adults interacting with them to support them and be able to watch for signs of abuse and neglect, which an insular community cannot provide.


Candice was homeschooled in Florida from 1986-1997. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

CRHE Board of Directors Appoints Angela Grimberg as Executive Director 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Board of Directors of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education is pleased to announce the appointment of Angela Grimberg to the position of executive director.

Angela is a researcher and advocate who shares the organization’s mission of seeing homeschooled students protected, nurtured, and empowered. Angela advocated for her educational advancement and achievement as a homeschooled student when inadequate resources left her unprepared for college. “Having gone through the home education system myself, I saw the regulatory failures firsthand and how many children fall through the cracks of a curriculum susceptible to abuse,” Angela said.

Homeschooled kindergarten through freshman year of high school, Angela enrolled in a dual program where she earned an associate’s degree and a high school diploma before going on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Florida. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science from Nova Southeastern University – Orlando. Angela comes to the role of executive director with an understanding of research protocols, advocacy experience on state legislative issues, and a passion for service.

Angela’s interest in research was sparked when she saw wide gaps in the outcomes that homeschooled students achieve. She enjoys examining through her research the fundamental question of why people’s lives take different paths – an interest she’s explored in past projects that also intersects with CRHE’s research focus. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Angela as our executive director,” said Chair of the Board of Directors Carmen Longoria-Green. “We know she will be an energetic, passionate, and committed advocate for homeschooled children. Her research experience will bring an analytical and strategic lens to CRHE’s ongoing research work. CRHE’s work is more important than ever, and we are excited to see what CRHE will accomplish under her leadership.”

The Board of Directors extends its deepest thanks to Jeremy C. Young and Kieryn Darkwater for serving as interim executive directors during the executive search, and to the donors who contributed to the fundraising campaign to raise the initial salary for this role. Your commitment fuels our vision – a future where homeschooled children’s right to a comprehensive and empowering education and to a safe and supportive home environment is affirmed and protected by laws, stakeholders, and society as a whole. With your help, CRHE will continue to grow and expand our activities and our reach, fulfilling our mission to empower homeschooled children.

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Valerie: “I know that not everyone in my position is so lucky”

At first, being home seemed fun and easy. However, as the subjects progressed, I felt myself falling behind. I would overhear other kids at the co-op talking about their classes and I was never learning about any of the same things.

My parents pulled me out of private christian school when I was only in kindergarten. I had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and was really struggling with school, despite my love of reading and how much I enjoyed being at school. At first, being home seemed fun and easy. However, as the subjects progressed, I felt myself falling behind. I would overhear other kids at the co-op talking about their classes and I was never learning about any of the same things. I was always behind, especially in math, history and science. My parents purchased us a chemistry course, but because we were impoverished, and couldn’t afford the items to conduct experiments, they asked us to just “do what we could with it.” 

Later in high school, entire subjects were replaced with learning style computer games like Cluefinders and Carmen San Diego. By college, I was really behind. I flunked out of every math and science class, despite trying my best. My papers came back with exasperated comments from my teachers, and I knew I needed to make it up somehow. I’m very fortunate that I had friends, some helpful tutors, some very gracious teachers and a healthy community around me to help me eventually get to graduation.

I know that not everyone in my position is so lucky. I know others who have had an amazing, fulfilling and educational experience homeschooling and I want that experience for every homeschooler. Everyone deserves the right to a safe and successful educational environment. and I believe homeschooling is equipped to provide that with the right tools.


Valerie was homeschooled in Virginia from 2000-2010. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

Amid calls to homeschool after school shootings, homeschool alumni group urges caution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

After every mass shooting in a school, homeschool advocates position homeschooling as the answer to protect children from violence. Most recently, the Robb Elementary School mass shooting—which claimed the lives of 19 children and two adults—has provoked renewed interest in homeschooling from concerned parents and the general public. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), the nation’s only nonpartisan advocacy organization founded and run by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, believes this is not a viable solution, and urges the public instead to make public schools and homeschools alike safe for the children who depend on them. 

Homeschooling is not the solution to protecting children from gun violence. The past decade alone has seen a rise in mass shootings at movie theaters, grocery stores, churches, concerts, and other locations frequented by children. Removing children from school does not guarantee they will not encounter gun violence elsewhere; in fact, homeschooled children like Isaac Miller, Mallory Evans, and Olivia Huggler have been killed by mass shooters in their own homes. Instead, the removal of children from schools only guarantees they will lose access to the services and community schools provide.

Homeschooling does not necessarily protect children from any form of violence. CRHE maintains Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, a database tracking hundreds of cases of child abuse and neglect in homeschooling environments. According to our data, at least 156 homeschooled children have been murdered in homeschooling environments over the past two decades, a rate higher than that of their public-school peers. “Because of the largely deregulated state of homeschooling in the U.S., homeschooled children have no guaranteed access to mandatory reporters, health and wellness services, and other measures that can identify and address problems at home,” said CRHE interim executive director Kieryn Darkwater. “This situation leaves millions of homeschooled children uniquely vulnerable to abuse and neglect with minimal opportunities for intervention.”

Furthermore, homeschooling itself can often be a contributing factor when young people commit violence. Some homeschooled children commit violence against caregivers to escape extreme abuse or a life-threatening situation. These children may feel that they have no one to turn to for help, and that violence is their only option when their lives are at stake.

Other homeschooled children and alumni who commit acts of violence seem to be fueled by the same trends as in society at large—toxic masculinity, white supremacy, alienation—which are then magnified by the homeschool environment. Homeschool alumni have been explicitly trained by their parents to become extremist terrorists or have been radicalized by their homeschool curriculum with tacit approval from their parents. Sometimes homeschooling is used as a “solution” for children who demonstrate violent tendencies, which may then worsen the problem. And for other homeschooled children, the isolation of the homeschool environment may contribute to a sense of disconnection where violence seems like an appealing alternative. The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School and 2018 Nashville Waffle House shootings, for example, were committed by men who had been homeschooled. 

“Our database of homeschooled children and alumni who have committed acts of violence reveals common patterns,” said CRHE research director Dr. Chelsea McCracken. “Not only is homeschooling an ineffective escape from societal problems that affect us all, in some cases it may intensify those problems. As a result, we find that homeschooling works best when it is chosen not out of fear, but as a positive, child-centered approach to education that prepares children for an open future.” In this vein, CRHE’s Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children, an aspirational vision for the homeschooling movement released in 2021, details an experience that centers the rights and needs of children. 

Schools serve an indispensable function in society, offering vital services to millions of children who would not otherwise have access to them. Schools offer comprehensive education, disability and wellness services, sports and recreational opportunities, college and career preparedness, and the chance to form meaningful relationships with peers and mentors. For many children, public schools are the best educational choice available. Instead of abandoning schools in the name of protecting children, we urge parents and policymakers to renew their commitment to making public schools safe. Studies have shown that measures addressing gun violence, poverty, and inequity promote a safer and better society for all children, regardless of how they are educated. Individual educational choices are not a solution to a collective societal problem.

“All children deserve a high-quality education in a safe, supportive environment. Whether a child goes to public school or is homeschooled, there’s a lot that must be done to make sure that child is safe and has everything they need to thrive,” said Darkwater. “As CRHE continues to advocate for the rights and safety of homeschooled children, we fully support the educators and advocates working to improve public schools to best serve children’s needs there.”

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When Parents Have All The Rights, Children Have None. A Statement from the Interim Executive Director.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

There’s a “parental rights revolution” afoot in America today. Republicans across the U.S. are introducing “Parents’ Bill of Rights” legislation which would enable parents to exercise veto power over every assignment in their children’s curricula and to prevent their children from getting medical assistance without their knowledge. Conservative groups urge their members to “fight for parents’ rights.”

As leader of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, an organization that advocates for homeschooled children and is run by homeschool alumni, I’ve seen all of this before. In the homeschooling movement, which has long been the home base of the most vocal parental rights activists, these ideas have resulted in the complete erosion of child welfare protections and, in some cases, in the deaths of children. Now parental rights extremism is coming for our public school system, and Americans should be very afraid.

For decades, the term “parental rights” was synonymous with the political activities of Michael P. Farris, the founder and current board chair of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Farris created the advocacy organization ParentalRights.org to promote a constitutional amendment asserting that “The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right,” restricted only when “a parental action or decision…would end life.” ParentalRights.org played a key organizing role in the passage of the Florida Parents’ Bill of Rights, which inspired the new federal bill.

Farris was most recently in the news because of a New York Times report alleging that he played a key role in attempts to overthrow the 2020 U.S. presidential election. But since the 1990s, his primary influence on American politics has been to promote the absolute supremacy of parental rights, to the exclusion of the rights and protections of children. Some of this work has spilled over into mainstream politics. For instance, Farris’s 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.

But homeschooled children have borne the brunt of Farris’s efforts. Under Farris’s leadership, HSLDA has led efforts to strip away basic legal protections for homeschooled children in every state. Today, it is legal in 48 states for a person convicted of crimes against children to homeschool their own children without any restrictions – even a requirement that their children have contact with mandatory reporters of child abuse. In most states, it is legal to deny one’s child any education at all; in eleven, parents do not even need to notify the local school district of their intent to homeschool their children. When homeschooling parents are arrested for abuse, HSLDA rushes to defend them in court. In 2005, an HSLDA attorney working for Farris said of a father who imprisoned his children in cages, “I think he is a hero.”

The results have been both predictable and tragic. 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. Thanks to a lack of oversight, the thirteen children of homeschooling parents David and Louise Turpin endured horrific abuse for over two decades, including being chained to their beds for months at a time, before one escaped and called for help. After teachers at 14-year-old Teddy Foltz-Tedesco’s school noticed he was being abused and called child protective services, his mother and stepfather withdrew him from school and began homeschooling him to escape scrutiny. His stepfather later murdered him. Raylee Browning, an 8-year-old homeschooled girl in West Virginia, died of sepsis after drinking from a toilet because her father refused her access to water. After registering their son as homeschooled under Kansas law, the parents of 7-year-old Adrian Jones tortured him to death, then fed his body to pigs. Leelah Alcorn’s parents withdrew her from public school to homeschool her as punishment for being trans, cutting her off from all support at school. The isolation and abuse that followed caused her death. 

Most parents advocating for parents’ rights today would rightly be appalled by these stories. Yet in the aftermath of these cases, it was outraged parental rights activists who blocked legislative reforms that would have prevented such tragedies from occurring. “At what point should a parent have their rights and freedoms taken away by the government for the betterment of the child?,” asked a West Virginia parent during a successful campaign last year against Raylee’s Law. Another called the law “an infringement on parental rights.” “They think you’re trying to violate their rights, but we’re just trying to protect these kids,” Teddy’s father lamented last year, after a bill based on his son’s case failed repeatedly in the legislature. “It was crazy.”

The Parental Rights Movement, partially led by Michael Farris as head of the Alliance Defending Freedom, is set on ensuring that all children in the US regardless of educational method have no recourse or escape from abuse at the hands of their caretakers. The attacks on LGBTQIA+ students and teachers are spearheaded by the same people whose mission is to destroy public education at any cost. They are doing it under the guise of “good parenting,” and using the same debunked homophobic rhetoric from the “gay panic” of the 1980s that saved no one but killed many. 

No parent or guardian has the right to destroy the life and future livelihood of their children. That includes removing them from supportive communities and resources, depriving them of education by banning books and harassing teachers out of the profession, and removing every legal safeguard in favor of allowing complete control over children with little-to-no consequences for inflicting harm. 

Parental rights extremism is dangerous because parents, as a group, are not infallible paragons of virtue; they are people, like everyone else. Most are kind and loving toward their children; some are monstrously cruel. The goal of our laws should be to protect children’s wellbeing by balancing parents’ right to care for and guide their children with children’s right to remain free of abuse and neglect. Legislation that awards parents absolute control over their children – such as the Parents’ Bill of Rights – gives that power to all parents, including the monsters. America’s children deserve better than that. Children’s rights are human rights, and it’s our job to make sure they have them.

CRHE Joins Anti-Child Marriage Coalition

In October of 2021 The Coalition of Responsible Home Education proudly joined 56 other children’s rights and child protection organizations as a member of the National Coalition to End Child Marriage in the United States. In joining the coalition, we pledged our support to the mission to end marriage below the age of 18 within the United States and to repeal loopholes and exceptions that may promote child marriage. 

CRHE’s monitoring and analysis of homeschool abuse cases reveal how child marriage can intersect with abuse in homeschool settings. 

CRHE lists over a dozen cases of forced child marriage in our Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database. These cases show how permissive homeschool laws often shield adults who are forcing children into early marriages.

  • Angel Dwyer was forced by her mother to marry at age 13, whereupon she was physically abused by her husband. Angel and her siblings were homeschooled for their entire lives in a secular family. Angel, now Angel McGehee, is currently a homeschooling mother who advocates against child marriage.
  • Children of Lev Tahor: Lev Tahor, a Jewish sect located in Quebec, Canada, came under scrutiny from child welfare officials in 2013 amid concerns of psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, improper education, medical neglect, and underage marriages. The sect’s children were homeschooled, and officials learned that girls were not receiving the same education as boys. 
  • Children by Tony Alamo: Six girls were taken as child brides and sexually abused by Tony Alamo, a fundamentalist minister and leader of the cultlike Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. Alamo claimed that all the children were homeschooled, although their homeschool program was not registered
  • The Girls Who Got Away: A report from Washington Examiner describes childhood marriage among Yemeni-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, noting, “Early marriages often result in Yemeni girls being pulled from the public school system. … Michigan’s relatively flexible homeschooling laws might be one reason these dropouts aren’t always flagged and investigated.” 

Prominent child marriage advocates have also spoken at homeschooling conventions and even convened pro-child marriage conferences

CRHE’s Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children affirms for homeschooled children “the right to be treated and allowed to act in developmentally appropriate ways; the right to be a child.” Joining the National Coalition to End Child Marriage is another expression of our support for that principle: every homeschooled child has the right to be a child. 

 

SCOTUS Abortion Decision Shows Disregard for Children’s Human Rights

For Immediate Release: Group run by homeschool alumni voices support for abortion rights

05/31/2022—Earlier this month, Politico reported on a leaked document indicating that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) intends to strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision protecting pregnant people’s right to abortion.

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), the nation’s only nonpartisan advocacy organization founded and run by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, affirms our support for bodily autonomy and medical privacy, and condemns SCOTUS’s efforts to deny these rights to millions of Americans.

Striking down Roe v. Wade will have numerous devastating impacts on children and families. Without access to abortion, minors who become pregnant—including homeschooled victims of sexual abuse—will be forced into premature parenthood. No matter how traumatic their situation may be, these minors will have no choice but to endure the significant physical and mental toll of pregnancy and have their futures irrevocably altered.

Restricting abortion will also place countless children at an elevated risk for abuse and neglect. All children deserve to be wanted, and forcing people to give birth will force children into households where they will not receive the love and care they need. Unwanted pregnancy is a known risk factor for child maltreatment, which coincides with homeschooling to an alarming degree.

Furthermore, adoption is not a suitable alternative for abortion. Adoption requires people to remain pregnant against their wishes and be subjected to the physical and mental trauma of an unwanted pregnancy. Adoption is also traumatic for the child who loses access to their birth family and is at risk for alienation and maltreatment in their adoptive family. Homeschooling parents have been known to “collect” or engage in labor trafficking of adopted children.

Deeply concerning in the leaked document is SCOTUS’s concept of a “domestic supply of infants.” Such a concept hinges on systemically removing Black, Brown, immigrant, and other marginalized children from their own communities and forcibly rehoming them with caregivers whom the state deems fit—overwhelmingly white, Christian, heterosexual parents. Some homeschooling parents deliberately adopt marginalized children to deny them access to their culture, identity, and history and to indoctrinate them into a form of Christian extremism. Children are treated as pawns in a culture war and as property to be bought and sold. The despicable ideology behind “a domestic supply of infants” positions parenthood as ownership and dehumanizes children entirely.

The extremist fundamentalist and evangelical Christian organizations behind the destruction of abortion rights are also behind the denial of children’s rights in the U.S. One such example is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and its president and CEO Michael Farris. As founder and board chair of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), Farris led efforts to ensure that the U.S. is the only nation that refuses to ratify the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Homeschooled children have been particularly devastated by these organizations’ concerted efforts to deprive children of their human rights. Empowered by HSLDA’s successful efforts to deregulate homeschooling, many homeschooling parents exploit homeschooling’s minimal oversight to deny their children health care, medical privacy, and bodily autonomy. Without guaranteed access to a public school’s health care infrastructure, mandatory reporters, or support structures outside the home, homeschooled children are entirely at their parents’ mercy for physical and mental health care. CRHE maintains a database tracking hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect in homeschooling environments. The stories of homeschooled children like Christopher Forder, Sanaa Cunningham, and J., who each suffered abuse and medical neglect in an isolated home, illustrate the dangers of a system that denies children medical care and bodily autonomy. The dismal state of homeschooled children’s rights offers a sobering preview of these organizations’ ideal vision for a disempowered population of children and adults alike.

CRHE believes that all people, including children, have the right to bodily autonomy, medical privacy, and self-determination. Our Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children, an aspirational vision for the homeschooling movement released in 2021, affirms these rights and others. Children are not the property of their parents. People are not the property of the state.

A mercenary desire for a “domestic supply of infants” does not outweigh the need for millions of people to maintain the right to make decisions about their bodies and lives. It is imperative that the right to abortion is enshrined into federal law and expanded nationwide. We call on homeschool alumni, homeschooling parents, legislators, children’s rights advocates, and all those who value human rights to take a stand for abortion rights and reproductive justice.

Abbey L.: “If anybody ever saw something concerning, nobody ever said a word.”

If I had been in a normal high school I would have noticed that other people lived differently. I also would have been around mandatory reporters who would have noticed my Dad’s obvious psychosis and the emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse I lived with. But instead, I didn’t even have a close friend to confide things to. And if anybody ever saw something concerning, nobody ever said a word.

I have never had so many emotions as those that flowed through me when I heard that Josh Duggar had finally been brought to justice. I actually got on the phone with my best friend to rant and celebrate, because I had a situation very similar to the one the Duggars had.

On the one hand, I loved being homeschooled. Being homeschooled saved me from what my experience of school had been up to that point. But looking back, it didn’t help in the long run.

I was born to two very Christian people. When I was born, my father was a Lutheran minister and my mother was a nurse. I was long awaited and I cannot doubt that I was dearly loved. When I was a toddler, my dad left his ministerial job and we left the Lutheran church because he had become convinced that ministers should not accept a salary and had made friends with a local Mennonite pastor. Before long we were wearing long skirts all the time and my mom and I stopped cutting our hair, and she began to wear a head covering.

When the time came for me to enter school, I was put into a private Christian school. It was a good school, but by the time I was in the 3rd grade or so my reading level was far above the normal, so I was regularly bored in class. I also was missing out on all the cultural aspects of being a child since we didn’t have cable anymore, and I wasn’t allowed to read the same book as everyone else, This which meant I was increasingly socially inept.

By 4th grade my parents no longer liked the ‘increasingly worldly’ culture of the school, so I was moved to the church school run by the Mennonite church. That year was a disaster. Even though I had begun to wear the proper long, loose dresses and a head covering, I was still on the outside…before I had been too sheltered, now I was too worldly and not related. I was openly bullied by the girls in my class for a whole year while the teacher watched impassively.

So when my parents suggested we homeschool, I was understandably relieved. Finally I could go at my own speed and not have to worry about other people.

The first years were everything homeschooling should be: fun, challenging, personalized. I had a few friends I’d kept through school and I made some more at the local homeschool group. We didn’t get together often, but when we did it was a blast. But as I went into high school, it got much worse, very quickly. I slammed into Pre-Algebra like a brick wall and couldn’t get past it. I spent 3 years trying to learn Pre-Algebra and Algebra, including about 4 or 5 curriculums. It just didn’t click. Finally, Dad just told us to stop bothering, so technically I had enough Math credits to graduate, but I never actually learned the normal math everyone learns in high school.

Meanwhile, though, I was happily doing high level sciences that didn’t require Math. I did lots of dissections and killed Human Anatomy. I loved Literature and History. When I got tired of Western history, Mom found me an African History book to use in 10th grade, and it was wonderful.

But on a social front, I had no friends at all. Sure, there were people I talked to at the homeschool group, but the couple of times I tried to have a deep conversation, it was met with subject changes or being ghosted. Most of my friends were from big families, and they didn’t really need me anyway. I was just an only child: socially awkward, nerdy even for a homeschooler, and still out of touch with anything really age appropriate. My Dad totally flipped out the few times he realized I had a crush on a boy, telling me that everyone would think I was a slut. Meanwhile, he actively sabotaged few friendships by telling me that my friends  were too worldly, too boy crazy, or had the ‘Jezebel’ spirit… because at some point when I was a teenager Dad started reading lots of conspiracy theorists and hardcore Pentecostals. He decided that the whole world was controlled by the Illuminati and that he was a prophet who could sense demons on people and predict what they would do. He occasionally attempted exorcisms on me or my mom when he thought we were being influenced… which mostly just meant we were in a bad mood.

By 11th grade I was done with school and asked to combine the last two years of school, which they, of course, agreed to. It was just as much of a disaster as you might expect, in which I did no official Math or Science and did basically the equivalent of a year’s worth of literature, foreign language, and history. We moved a couple of months in and all schooling basically stopped, until I officially graduated.

Meanwhile, my Dad had become endlessly paranoid and controlling. I had basically no friends, neither did my mom, and home became a nightmare. 

If I had been in a normal high school I would have noticed that other people lived differently. I also would have been around mandatory reporters who would have noticed my Dad’s obvious psychosis and the emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse I lived with. But instead, I didn’t even have a close friend to confide things to. And if anybody ever saw something concerning, nobody ever said a word.

Finally, as a young adult I left home and spent almost a year in a cloistered monastery. I thought I was discerning a vocation, but actually I was being directed by something or Someone to the first safe place I had ever lived in. Here, I finally began to tell the sisters what I had experienced, and I got in contact with my grandparents. The nuns gently pushed me towards therapy and eventually taught me what love and stable relationships were. I reconnected with my grandparents, who I had been kept from since I was a small child, and who have become some of my greatest supporters. Eventually, I left the monastery, knowing that I wasn’t called there, but that I owe them the world.

I moved in with mom’s parents about 6 months ago and am finally becoming myself. I cut my hair, started wearing jeans, learned to drive, to make friends. There is a boy in my life who I like very much and in fact likes me back, and we both dream of the day that we’re both in a place, emotionally and practically to be in a proper relationship. Until then, we’re just inseparable friends. Now I’m trying to navigate what to do when your transcript is basically worthless and you are staring at a GED. I don’t know what I want to do with myself long term, but I am confident I can do what needs to be done. 

This is why we need increased regulations in homeschooling, increased awareness of what child abuse and mental illness look like, and the destruction of loopholes that makes situations like mine and the Duggars go on so long. All it would have taken would have been one person to see what was happening, just enough to be concerned and report it to the authorities.

I remind myself often: I am a survivor. I am brave. I can do this. And maybe I’m just writing this because I am proud of myself.


Abbey Lancaster was homeschooled in Virginia and Ohio from 2011-2017. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.

 

Song HyoA: “They mold me into an identity that is perfect for them, but not for me”

It takes time, dedication, experience, expertise, money, resources, and structure to homeschool your children, not just spending dollars on a curriculum that will not help them get into university. You give your children a future that changes their lives.”

Homeschooling has been quite popular in Malaysia during the COVID pandemic as many children stayed at home, but in reality, it was a tough decision to homeschool or send your children to homeschool centers. It takes time, dedication, experience, expertise, money, resources, and structure to homeschool your children–not just spending dollars on a curriculum that will not help them get into university. You give your children a future that changes their lives. If homeschooling does not suit the interests of your children, then just don’t. It might be worse than your typical American or Korean drama.

Due to my ADHD and mild autism, my mom sent me to a homeschool co-op for children with mental disabilities. For the first three grades, I made lifelong friends, did very well in academics, and had a perfect life. But when I reached fourth grade, I was shocked when my friends and I got mistreated for the first time. We were spanked when we made a mistake, got our mouth taped to shut our voices. If we fall and get injured, they will mock us for being weak. I ran away from home a few times because I wanted to be saved, as well as to copy Bible verses and go to church once a week.

I started my period in 5th grade and was so ashamed that I took two weeks home because I was afraid it would enrage my teachers. I lost my first friend because she was so distressed that she acted abnormally. The only kind act that my friend did for me was showing a dead lizard to scare and distract my teacher. I remembered that I was hit by a wooden spoon on my head thrown by another teacher, but did not seek medical attention. My parents frequently visited my psychologist, but the visits have been less frequent as I grew older.

I transferred in 6th grade to another homeschool center but I am still stuck in this world. I was falsely accused of stealing some workbooks from the seniors. My schoolmates were so rich that they could get away from the trouble they caused. I am always in trouble when I defend myself. I was denied an opportunity to play any sport and competitions I wanted. Even though I worked too hard on my modules, the only memorable moments when attending this center were coding classes, STEM-themed field trips, and joining strength training workouts. My social life was turbulent in my secondary school years. I found myself being a marionette with the fake friends who did not respect me, that one of them splashed water on my old laptop and never paid for my new laptop. There was one time I was framed for exploring how vulnerable the homeschooling software is by hacking to access the internet. I suffered from body dysmorphia that I tried to starve to lose weight if dieting and exercising does not help. The only extracurricular activity I did was Taaekwondo to protect myself if I am bullied and to gain confidence.

Grade 9 and 10 are the darkest years I have experienced. I have witnessed my seniors struggling while preparing for IGCSEs. I was the only girl in my class to take science subjects and add math, but I still have most of the subject teachers and the principal’s pet dog on my side to cheer me on despite hearing lot of sexist, racist, and elitist jokes and insults from my homeroom teacher for the first year of preparing for IGCSEs. I discovered writing to cope with the pain and to express my feelings. When I felt not secure enough to write about my school due to bullying, I seek help from my English tution to relieve the pain without toxic judgment.

Then COVID-19 came and affected our schedule. It gets me away from demanding activities that the school forced me to attend as they are virtual, but breaks me as the online hangout was too long for me to endure. After the isolation, my mental health started to deteriorate instantly despite doing well on my past year papers. I neglected my physical health when I studied past midnight. I was worried that I would never get out if I did not have top grades. When I reached the exam venue, I avoided my classmates like plague and studied and hung out with candidates who attended different schools and centers and homeschoolers to heal from the mistreatment in my school.

Then I graduated from homeschool. I only learned the manners of a perfect rich girl, perfect grammar and vocabulary and the Bible despite being the second best in my homeschooling center and having the perfect grades needed to attend college via a scholarship. Despite attending a university workshop and competition, I was pushed to college unprepared like being swept by a hurricane and landing in a foreign place. I have a mindset of college where I made up all the wasted time and to get out of the sight of previous school. I pushed myself to excel in my studies as well as my extracurriculars when I studied A-Levels to the point that I have mental breakdowns especially if I lose in competitions. I was lucky that I got counseling and one of my math teachers who has experience teaching homeschoolers encouraged me. I still continue to read voraciously in the library, have close friends, and get A’s and B’s in my AS Levels. I am not ashamed to take anything beyond the college campus. This year, I managed to save one of the endangered clubs by becoming its vice president.

I was homeschooled in a Christian fundamentalist-based homeschooling environment. From the fourth year to IGCSE, my homeschool years have been turbulent. I attempted suicide and was self-harmed a few times. I remembered feeling depressed and hopeless because of the persistent toxic positivity and perfection. What is even worse is that I studied in small private homeschooling centers, where bullying occurred frequently, rumors will spread like wildfire, and my mental wellbeing was neglected. I was ashamed of menstruation and my sexuality. I was so tired of the double standards in both of my Christian schools, being myself is so hard that I wanted plastic surgery. They may not truly value hard work and personality; they mold me into an identity that is perfect for them, but not for me, and shelters me from the outside world. But these painful setbacks made me stronger, smarter, and kinder. I still love my parents though they fight or feel guilty, but it was not their fault and they worked hard to give me a good life and education. I am working on my A2 levels while helping other homeschoolers to be known and heal together mentally. 


Song Hyoa was homeschooled in Kota Kemuning, Malaysia from 2011 to 2020. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Community Voices page.