Last week a Facebook video went viral and brought fresh attention to the debate over the role of religion in homeschooling. The video, posted by user NateTalksToYou, is a mashup of the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp and 2009’s Vote Jesus. In the first clip, a mother proudly proclaims that she’s “so right wing” she doesn’t believe in birth control. The interviewer then asks her oldest daughter a few math problems, starting at twelve times twelve and working down to five times five, all of which she answers incorrectly. Her mother unabashedly explains that while they’ve finished learning the books of Genesis through Joshua, they’re “not so hard on the math facts.” In the second clip a mother smiles and nods as her son expresses his contentment with Galileo’s decision to turn away from science in favor of God.
Both of these examples express a version of child abuse. While the public education system in the United States is in dire need of more funding in order to meet higher standards, the introduction of Common Core was a step in the right direction as it sought to establish a foundation that “prohibit[s] political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.” Sadly, such bold statements lead religious parents to shelter their children from the realities of the world in favor of a constrained learning environment. (In a 2012 US Department of Education survey, 64 percent of homeschooling parents said their decision to educate their children at home was based on “a desire to provide religious instruction.”) This is wildly irresponsible, as initiatives like Common Core help give schools a set of guidelines that parents, teachers, and school administrators can look to in an assessment situation.
Currently, eleven US states don’t require parents to notify the state that they’re homeschooling their child, and fifteen states require simply a notice with no further requirements. Therefore, in more than half of the states in the country, parents are free to teach their children whatever they please. Only five of these states require follow-ups and assessments.
This irresponsibility of the states and parents is astounding. The nation and the rest of the world are becoming exponentially more secular with the younger generation shedding religion quickly. Fundamentalist parents are doing their children a great disservice by preventing them from socializing with their peers who are skeptical and more often distrustful of organized and radical forms of religion. Even more concerning is that parents, like those in the video clip, are denying their children the knowledge required to live in a modern society. With math, science, and computer science becoming the language of many future industries, a generation of homeschooled children could be left behind in a fast-moving world.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the proverbial “classroom” and specific math and science learning that fundamentalist homeschooled children miss out on. Like the one mother said, she “doesn’t even believe in birth control.” Thousands of young homeschooled children are being taught that their sexual thoughts and feelings are satanic and must be suppressed, while others take a very laissez-faire attitude towards sexual teaching, believing that God will take care of such circumstances. In a blog by Vyckie Garrison on Patheos titled No Longer Quivering, former homeschooled girls from the Quiverfull movement attest to the fact that they were raised to “procreate for God’s army,” enforcing the idea that women are merely vessels for reproduction while simultaneously setting them back years compared to their peers who are educated on reproductive health. Many of these young women face miscarriages or other life-threatening complications due to their seemingly constant pregnancies. More horrifyingly, some children are subjected to parental physical abuse while being homeschooled, a topic covered in abundance on blogs and in the media. Since most states require either a simple waiver or no waiver at all, there’s little to no oversight at these homes. In certain sects homeschooled children could be, and in many cases related to certain fundamentalist sects are, abused by a parent.
With the rise of secularism in America and around the world, some evangelicals reside in an “atmosphere of real terror,” believing the rapture is imminent. They would rather homeschool their children than be exposed, heaven forbid, an atheist or a humanist. As one Quiverfull leader stated: “If they can do mathematics perfectly but they have no morals, you have failed them.”
How these “morals” are practiced comes into question when one looks at the most famous Quiverfull family: the Duggars, stars of the TLC series, 19 Kids and Counting. The eldest son of the family, Josh Duggar, molested several young girls, including his own sisters. This heinous act challenges the Quiverfull movement’s claim that homeschooling is a morally superior alternative to public schools.
States need to recognize the importance of oversight, as unsupervised homeschooling is still prevalent in most states, which allows fundamentalist parents to raise generations of children who are mathematically, scientifically, and socially illiterate in an environment undoubtedly dangerous to their wellbeing.