Every morning, after eating a breakfast of whole wheat biscuits and gravy, with milk straight from the cow, my brothers and sisters and I would gather our worn notebooks and stubby pencils around the table and begin our lessons. But first, we prayed and my mother read from the Bible. Tacked behind her on the wall, were flash cards with Latin words on them, a poster of the cursive alphabet and a large wooden spoon, inscribed with Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” The bowl of the spoon was cracked.
Our kitchen table was a large giant oak slab, built to accommodate all eight of us children, as we huddled together to learn multiplication, Latin roots, Roman history and copy out poems and Bible verses in our scrawling script. If I finished my math early, I was allowed to hide away behind the holly bushes and read.
When the birth of my brother Noah, who was born both Down syndrome and autism, forced my mother to send me and my older sister to school, I was able to skip ahead into AP Biology and take composition and English classes with upperclassmen.
Yet, despite the memories of warm biscuits and days spent lost in the worlds of novels, I will not be homeschooling my daughter.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute, in 2009, there were 2.5 million home schooled children in the United States. And while parents may home school for a variety of different reasons, 72 percent of those who responded cited religious and moral reasons.
This was my family. Our parents homeschooled us with the desire to remove us from the influences of “the world,” which meant anyone who was not Evangelical. I sat through lessons and read books where Charles Darwin, persona non grata in our family, was blamed as the source of all godlessness—Nazis and Democrats, chief among them. We went to seminars where feminism was blamed for the lack of care and nurture provided to children in families where mother’s worked. My mother played us tapes of a series of lectures given by a conservative, homeschooled family of 20 children on topics like, “virginity” and allowing your parents to choose your spouse (only for women, of course). In high school, when my parents had decided I had been corrupted by “the world.” I was sent to a camp, where a leader told me that all good women needed to “bridle their power, like a horse restrained.”
This type of homeschooling may seem like a small minority of the population, a Duggar-ish aberration from the norm. But they are a vocal and powerful group. And despite only 25-30 percent of the country identifying as this brand of Evangelical, they have a large sway over the national conversation. Just ask any non-religious unschooler how hard it is to avoid this brand of homeschooler in homeschooling groups.