How Not to Evaluate Homeschooling

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Update: Since this post was first written in December 2013, I've had an opportunity to reevaluate it. In light of several comments and insights, combined with a rereading of the original article in question, I've come to see that I've made key mistakes in this post. The original article cited, for one, was not a good choice in making my points about how not to evaluate homeschooling. For another, I did not accurately represent the article. This is due, admittedly, to carelessness on my part, not on the part of the original article. For example, the original article really does not contain anything that is overtly critical of home education in general. In closing, I apologize for misconstruing the article mentioned below and for causing confusion among readers of this blog. I'll do my best to avoid such errors in future posts. In addition, for the record neither myself or Sonlight support harmful home education practices, but instead encourage a loving, nurturing learning environment where ideas are openly discussed and children are educated, not indoctrinated. 

Recently I came across an article in The American Prospect titled, "The Homeschool Apostates." It's hardly favorable regarding home education, highlighting examples of individuals who were raised as homeschoolers, but who now are essentially rebelling against the ideals they learned.

The article in question presents extreme examples of homeschooling situations that are hardly normative. In one example offered, the parents are depicted as being highly legalistic, controlling, isolated from others, and inflexible in their approach to education. It's not surprising given such circumstances that the children would ultimately rebel. As the article states, "Their parents wanted them naïve and sheltered."

I'll point out three errors in reasoning that are present in The American Prospect article (there are others, but these three are particularly important). First, examples that are not normative among homeschoolers are set forth as being typical. In other words, although such extreme circumstances and situations do exist, they are not broadly representative examples. In short, it's not helpful to base one's analysis of something, such as home education, on the basis of non-normative examples and circumstances.

Second, to judge the whole of homeschooling on the basis of limited individual examples is not the best approach. The logical fallacy of composition holds that what may be true of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole. In the case of certain criticisms of homeschooling, the whole of home education is being judged on the basis of certain parts--parts that are not normative or typical, but in fact are extreme examples.

Third, logical counterexamples may be used to demonstrate that certain arguments against home education are false. It is certainly the case that not all homeschooling parents are legalistic, abusive, or haphazard in their approach. There are many examples of well-rounded, intelligent parents and homeschooled children (just look at some of Sonlight's scholarship winners, for instance).

Finally, Sonlight seeks to foster learning, not isolation from ideas or the world. We want every child who uses Sonlight to be able to engage and understand ideas and be open to thoughtfully evaluating different viewpoints (even ideas that are directly in opposition to their worldview).

Robert Velarde

P.S. Since this is my last blog post before Christmas, I thought I'd quote one of my favorite passages in reference to the Incarnation: "The Word [Christ] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14, The Message). Merry Christmas!

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About Robert

Robert Velarde serves as a curriculum creator with Sonlight's product development team. He’s author of The Wisdom of Pixar, A Visual Defense, Conversations with C.S. Lewis, The Golden Rules of Narnia, and more.
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24 Responses to How Not to Evaluate Homeschooling

  1. Shaney Lee says:

    Hi Robert,

    My name is Shaney Lee, and I'm a board member of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO), the umbrella organization of which Homeschoolers Anonymous is a part. I was homeschooled K-12, and my mom used Sonlight as part of our curriculum. I've always appreciated Sonlight's approach to showing multiple sides to issues rather than only teaching the conservative Christian viewpoint.

    I'd like to clarify something about the article that I think has been commonly misunderstood. Neither the article, nor Homeschoolers Anonymous, have made any claims that "This is what homeschooling is like." What both HA and the article are trying to do is bring light to the extreme situations that often get hidden.

    Not too long ago, I read an article about adoptive parents who sold their adoptive children to other parents when they feel overwhelmed or regret the adoption. As someone who is generally supportive of adoption, it was a difficult article to read. But it was clear that the article was not talking about *all* adoptions, but was trying to bring awareness to extreme cases. By raising awareness, regular people know that this stuff happens and may be more likely to recognize an illegal adoption when they see evidence of it happening. This, in turn, helps protect the children.

    The Prospect article is attempting to do the same thing. Because of lack of accurate statistics, we don't know how many homeschooled children are abused or isolated. What we do know is that it happens, and that many children who were abused are now grown up and telling stories--stories about how the people around them who could have done something either didn't know what was going on or looked the other way.

    In highlighting these stories, no value judgments about homeschooling as a whole are being made. What we are trying to do is bring awareness to the issue so that those who are in a position to help will be aware that it *is* an issue, and may be more likely to intervene when they see or suspect child abuse or neglect happening in fellow homeschooling families.

    I consistently recommend Sonlight curriculum because its emphasis is not on isolation and indoctrination, but rather thorough education and exposure to different worldviews. HARO and HA are by no means anti-homeschooling; rather, we'd like to see homeschooling better reflect the values seen in Sonlight's philosophy. If you have any more questions regarding HARO or HA, please feel free to send me a personal message by e-mail. I'd be more than happy to converse on the subject.


    Shaney Lee
    Board member, Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out

  2. Emily Maynard says:

    I'm really sorry that you thought that article was more about people "essentially rebelling against the ideals they learned" rather than patterns of severe abuse found in a certain segment of society. If you care about that segment of society (homeschoolers), would you work to identify and eliminate ANY horrible abuse being done to children and adults in that system?

    Thank you, at least, for linking to this article. I hope that homeschooling continues to be an safe, healthy, and supported education option that does not allow child abuse in its midst.

  3. Tegan Giesel says:


    In 1) you say that a atypical examples should not be used to judge the whole. Because of the largely unregulated state of homeschooling, neither you nor American Prospect knows exactly what is typical and what is not. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, was American Prospect attempting to judge the whole. It was saying something more to the effect of- 'these things have happened among homeschoolers- how disturbing that there are no safeguards.'

    In point 2) you say that limited examples should not be used to judge the whole. To repeat, you seem to have missed the point of the article. It was not attempting to judge the whole. And again, due to the unregulated state of homeschooling we have no way to tell how limited these these examples are.

    Point no. 3 seems particularly irrelevant since no one was arguing that all homeschooling was abusive. However, in making this point you bring up the Sonlight winners. The Sonlight winners are both a limited example of home schooling (not all homeschoolers are winners) and an atypical example of homeschooling (most homeschoolers are not winners).

    Could you please explain what your article is supposed to accomplish? Or how, if your treatment of the American Prospect article is an example of how you believe evaluation works, we are supposed to take your opinion on how to/not to evaluate things seriously?

    Happy Yule.

    - a homeschool graduate

  4. Tegan Giesel says:

    "When she was growing up, Elizabeth Esther remembers wondering, 'Does anyone know what’s happening to us, does anyone care?' "

    - Kathryn Joyce

    When your sole response to stories of abuse is to defend yourself against broad brush accusations that have not actually been made, I simply have to ask. DO you care?

  5. Robert Robert says:

    Thanks for your comments. The broader point I'd like to make is that home education is in many respects flourishing and producing intelligent, capable individuals who are far from sheltered or ignorant of the world around them.

    As for studies of home education that evaluate factors such as abuse, that is certainly something I'd like to research further. In my experience, however, the homeschooling families I've known over the course of many years are anything but abusive or isolationist. They are, rather, examples of loving parents seeking the best for their children, often by expressing a willingness to understand and interact with other ideas. Articles like the one noted in my original post, however, contribute to an overall anti-homeschooling sentiment that in my estimation is largely unwarranted.

  6. Samantha says:


    You say "Articles like the one noted in my original post, however, contribute to an overall anti-homeschooling sentiment that in my estimation is largely unwarranted."

    Articles like "Homeschooling Apostates" are exposing horrible abuses that have been ignored and hidden inside homeschooling culture. HSLDA has even referred to convicted child abusers as "heroes." When people like Rachel Coleman can put together a database with examples of people who have pulled their children out of the public eye and isolated them and used "homeschooling" in order to abuse them horribly, then *any* critique of the system that allows that to happen is "warranted."

  7. Shaney Lee says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your reply. I'd have to disagree with your assessment, however, that Kathryn Joyce's article contributed to "anti-homeschooling" sentiment. I have yet to talk to anyone who read the article who switched from being pro-homeschooling to anti-homeschooling as a result of learning of abuses in homeschooling. Rather, I have heard from people who, now that they are aware of these abuses, want to know what they can do to help others who are being abused or isolated in homeschooling.

    If pro-homeschooling people, however, continue to react to stories like these with an attitude of "Homeschooling's fine, these are just extremes," rather than, "How can we ensure this doesn't continue to happen?", then the majority of the people advocating for protection of these children will be anti-homeschooling. Wouldn't it be better if pro-homeschoolers recognized these abuses and worked for change?

    I fail to see how an article highlighting abuse creates anti-homeschooling sentiment anymore than articles highlighting abuse in adoption creates anti-adoption sentiment. The point of articles like these is to create awareness of abuse so that we can confront it head on, not sweep it under the rug. And from what I've been seeing, that's exactly what's happening.


    Shaney Lee
    Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out

  8. Tegan Giesel says:

    "Articles like the one noted in my original post, however, contribute to an overall anti-homeschooling sentiment that in my estimation is largely unwarranted."

    Frankly I am much more frightened of homeschooling in general after reading your article (in which a leading producer of homeschool educational materials seems to brush off abuse) than I am after reading one saying that some homeschoolers are abusive.

    A certain percentage of parents are abusive in any setting. It isn't necessarily an indictment of homeschooling to say that some homeschool parents have been found to be abusive.

    However- when the leaders of the community (particularly those in a position to make a profit) are more concerned with reputation than children's lives, I feel my self backing away big time.

  9. Robert Robert says:

    Tegan, abuse of any kind is a travesty, whether it takes place within a home education setting or anywhere else. My overall concern with the article is that home education is yet again being unfairly painted negatively with a broad brush when, in fact, many counterexamples are available to demonstrate the benefits of home education. My original post has nothing to do with "reputation," but with unfair depictions of the home education movement.

  10. Samantha says:

    I'm more concerned that you're more worried about homeschooling's reputation than you are about children's lives.

  11. Becca says:

    Robert, you say, "My overall concern with the article is that home education is yet again being unfairly painted negatively". Please share your data demonstrating this unfairness.


  12. Tegan Giesel says:

    "My original post has nothing to do with "reputation," but with unfair depictions of the home education movement."

    You astound me.

    How do you define the word "reputation"? Here's how its defined according to Merriam-Webster .

    rep·u·ta·tion noun \ˌre-pyə-ˈtā-shən\
    : the common opinion that people have about someone or something : the way in which people think of someone or something

    Full Definition of REPUTATION
    1 a : overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general
    b : recognition by other people of some characteristic or ability
    2: a place in public esteem or regard : good name "

    Depictions of a movement (unfair or otherwise) ARE it's reputation. And while the Prospect article was discussion of particular cases of abuse- not homeschooling in general. Your article was a discussion of it's "depiction" of homeschooling and how the character of the institution of homeschooling should be judged ("evaluated") by people in general.

    That is the definition of reputation.

    You responded to stories of abuse with worry over how your movement was being depicted. A.k. a.- it's "reputation".

    Saying that you didn't doesn't change that fact. Its also bizarre and puzzling.

  13. Robert Robert says:

    In the words of the old movie "Cool Hand Luke," I think what we have here is a failure to communicate. To reiterate the point of the post, it is intended to demonstrate faulty reasoning that at times underlies negative depictions of home education, as well as offer positive counterexamples. It is not about abuse or about reputation per se, but about evaluating a movement.

  14. Shaney Lee says:


    Again, you are failing to understand the point of the article. You keep talking about "faulty reasoning" and yet none of the reasoning you say was faulty was actually in the article. You are responding to arguments that were not made. If you think the article was about homeschooling as a whole, that is on you and your failure to understand that the article is talking about extremes within a movement, not the movement itself.

    But even if you were right, and the article WAS painting a depiction about homeschooling in general, when did the need for homeschooling to have a positive image trump doing something about kids who are being abused, neglected, and killed?

    I've worked with abused individuals for awhile now, and one thing I can guarantee you is that ignoring attempts to expose abuse, or turn those attempts into something else other than acknowledgement and confrontation of abuse, contributes to a culture that is accepting of abuse--or, at the very least, doesn't prioritize it high enough and sits by and does nothing.

    I'm really disappointed. I would have expected someone associated with Sonlight to do better.

  15. Robert Robert says:

    Thanks again, everyone, for your comments. Although I am unable to respond to each post, I do appreciate hearing from readers. My apologies to those who believe I have misrepresented the original article, as that was not my intent. In addition, I completely agree that abuse in any form is a serious matter and should indeed be exposed.

  16. Lara says:

    If we are to allow that public schools can produce both fine, upstanding, intelligent children while also failing some, I fail to understand why we can not allow that the same could be true of homeschools. To continually insist that homeschooling be painted only in positive tones, we are being dishonest and do the movement no favors. We are all human and therefore all flawed. Homeschools are no more exempt from this truth than any other form of education. The argument that homeschools are better than public or private schools can still be made without dismissing that some homeschools can fail - even horribly so. Addressing the concerns of former homeschoolers should be seen as an opportunity to stregthen homeschooling rathing than causing a knee jerk reaction to defend all homeschooling.

  17. Tegan Giesel says:

    I'm never buying from Sonlight.

    • Erin says:

      I will buy from Sonlight partly because they have managed to somehow get on the bad side of one of the leaders of the ultra conservative movement in Home schooling. If they aren't allowed at the CHEC convention then they must be doing something interesting. :-)

  18. Rob says:

    Speaking only from my personal experience, I would argue the article is so damning precisely because it does represent the majority of the homeschool population - whether or not Joyce's intention was to highlight the extreme or paint a general picture. As a homeschool graduate with six younger brothers and sisters, I have had interaction, knowledge and familiarity with homeschooling for over half my life - 20+ years.

    Sadly, I thought my feelings regarding my homeschooling experience were more unique than they were. In fact, it was my former peers in the larger homeschooling community in which I was involved that brought Joyce's article to my attention - not in rebuke of its content but in the same awe of its reflection of our upbringing in such striking detail.

    Certainly "extreme" examples exist. Joyce, however, needed not be picky with choosing such examples - they are indeed reflective of the norm. Only a willing blindness could allow anyone to think otherwise.

  19. Holly says:

    As a homeschool alum who knows many homeschool alums, I felt that Kathryn Joyce's article was incredibly representative of those of us in conservative circles.
    In my family, as in many I know, we were perfectly behaved, quiet, smiling, respectful, conversant, and just generally wholesome. And as an adult, I am successful by almost every socially constructed measure. I am well educated, friendly, respected, independent, and mature.
    What you don't see is the damage beneath my carefully polished surface, then or now. You don't see the girl who was constantly criticized and scrutinized. The 12 year old who was expected to be the adult in her house. The 16 year old crying silently in her room because she feels totally worthless, but isn't allowed to show that emotion. The woman who has to step out of meetings when people are being just a little bit confrontational, because that triggers a panic attack. The 28 year old who is terrified of and bewildered by dating, because she has no idea how to interact with a man in a romantic context.
    My parents love me and my siblings, they did their very best for us, and that knowledge allows me to forgive a lot, but the damage is something I still deal with.
    Maybe part of the problem is that homeschool parents simply can't see things from our perspective, and many of them are afraid to try, since it might prove an indictment of their parenting.
    Most of us just want to heal. And after that, we want to make homeschooling better. We would appreciate your help.

  20. ColleenInWis says:

    Robert, in your concern about how the homeschool movement is evaluated by the public, do you believe that the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous should not be shared?

  21. Luke says:

    Hey everyone! This is Luke. As Robert noted, he is a busy guy. I have more time dedicated to blogging, so I'm going to hop in here and leave a few comments. I'm not going to claim to keep up, but I thought I share a few observations.

    1. There is nothing wrong with sharing personal experiences and shedding light on evil. That should absolutely be done. In fact, that is right in line with Sonlight's "educate, don't indoctrinate" philosophy. We should all seek to learn more about all aspects of something. As Sonlighters, we appreciate the opportunity to look at things from various viewpoints to better get a handle on truth.

    2. I see the larger problem -- and this comes across in the accounts in the article, the comments here, and other places (like Homeschoolers Anonymous) -- as the parental philosophy toward life. It's not homeschooling. People with bad theology do terrible things. This continues to be true. It does not matter what educational approach you use. May we use sobering stories like these to re-evaluate what we believe and check if we are harboring ungodly ideas masquerading as "servants of righteousness."

    3. Is homeschooling for everyone? No. Is it a great option? Yes. I have blogged many times here about choosing the option that is best for your family. I am far more interested in children and families succeeding than I am in selling curriculum (or pushing the homeschooling agenda). Naturally, I found Sonlight's approach to homeschooling to be fantastic. And I think how we approach learning can help families not fall into the dark traps of "snake oil salesmen."

    Again, thank you all for your comments and continued discussion!


  22. Pingback: Why Homeschoolers Must Accept LGBTQ* | Wide Open Ground

  23. Anthe says:

    I hate the way that if someone defends themselves against gross stereotyping, they are accused of saying something they did not say. So, if someone mentions that not all home educators are abusive, it's "Oh, so you don't care about abuse, then?" If we speak up for *our* children, we are accused of not caring about *other* children. I've read the HA site a few times over the years, and there is something I've noticed. The site founder is quick to answer if a poster makes a bad point -- except when he/she expresses outright contempt for all home educators. Condemnation of all homeschoolers is never slapped down on HA. There is also a series of articles accusing home educator of being racist. As a black woman, I find that appalling.

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