Several decades ago, political activists on the religious right began to put together an "ideology machine". Home schooling was a big part of the plan. The idea was to breed and "train up" an army of culture warriors. We now are faced with the consequences of their actions, some of which are quite disturbing.
According to the Department of Education, the home schooling student population doubled in between 1999 and 2007, to 1.5 million students, and there is reason to think the growth has continued. Though families opt to home school for many different reasons, a large part of the growth has come from Christian fundamentalist sects. Children in that first wave are now old enough to talk about their experiences. In many cases, what they have to say is quite alarming.
When he was growing up in California, Ryan Lee Stollar was a stellar home schooling student. His oratory skills at got him invited to home schooling conferences around the country, where he debated public policy and spread the word about the "virtues" of an authentically Christian home school education.
Now 28, looking back on his childhood, it all seems like a delusion. As Stollar explains:
"The Christian home school subculture isn't a children-first movement. It is, for all intents and purposes, an ideology-first movement. There is a massive, well-oiled machine of ideology that is churning out soldiers for the culture war. Home schooling is both the breeding ground – literally, when you consider the Quiverfull concept – and the training ground for this machinery. I say this as someone who was raised in that world."
Too frequently, Stollar says, the consequences of putting ideology over children include anxiety, depression, distrust of authority, and issues around sexuality. This is evident from the testimonials that appear on Home schoolers Anonymous, the website that Stollar established, along with several partners.
Stollar's own home schooling experience started off well. But over time, as his family became immersed in the world of Christian home schooling, his "education" became less straightforward and more ideological. "I particularly remember my science curriculum," he says. "We used It Couldn't Just Happen, which wasn't really a science textbook. It was really just an apologetics textbook which taught students cliché refutations of evolutionism."
Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity. However, as many HA bloggers report, it is easy to get sucked into the vortex of fundamentalist home schooling because extremists have cornered the market – running the conventions, publishing the curricula, setting up the blogs.