Homeschooling and Religious Indoctrination: An Attack

Indoctrinating children into any particular faith is, and should be labeled, child abuse. The reasons are obvious. It constitutes a complete negligence of their education, free-will, and psychological well-being. And while many of us may have grown up both happy and healthy under mildly religious parents, the side effects of even this are so sinister it could with ease be justified in being cast into prohibition – if only it were enforceable.

I want to first address what I mean by indoctrination. Now I know many people take issue with this word when referring to mainstream religions since we typically consider indoctrination a practice of cults or Mormonism.

Notwithstanding, if you were raised in a household that taught you about and encouraged the practice of one faith only and forced or strongly influenced you to participate in their rituals, then you were indoctrinated. I do not necessarily mean other faiths were never mentioned or discussed, but I do mean it was very apparent to you that your parents strongly preferred the practice of their faith. If a refusal to comply could result in any level of shaming, visible anxiety, or exhortations to the contrary by your family, then this would represent the social pressure that indoctrination oft requires.

The definition provided by dictionary.com states:

verb (used with object), indoctrinated, indoctrinating.

  1. to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., especially to imbue with a specific partisan or  biased belief or point of view.

Homeschooling is probably the most sinister and extreme context that this inculcation takes in the American mainstream. If we are talking about what is legally permissible and what is not generally considered bizarre, then this would be the most pernicious of the abuses I will discuss. I am going to attack this practice at length, on both its own terms and for those described above.

In 2007 there were approximately 1.5 million children homeschooled in the United States, which constituted about 2.9% of the student population, K through 12. It is important to note that in 1999 only 1.7% of the student population was homeschooled. We then see that in 2011 there are 1.7 million estimated homeschooled students.

In 2011, 64% of respondents to a survey regarding the reasons for homeschooling their children stated that religious instruction was ‘important’ and 16% stated it was ‘most important’. 77% and 5% listed moral instruction as ‘important’ and ‘most important’ respectively, with regard to their reasons for homeschooling. 91% listed the environment of public schools as an ‘important’ factor, but we can safely assume that many of these were the same people who were concerned about their children’s religious and moral education, whatever that might entail. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.

Homeschooling is a problem and should either be illegal or highly regulated for several reasons. Primarily, homeschooled children have no reason to leave the house and engage others. If their parents constitute both care-giver and instructor then they also play the role of arbiter when it comes to friends, organizations, and general experiences.

Children who attend school, whether public or private, have the opportunity to meet new people on their own terms, learn about organizations and clubs they may wish to join, and engage life in an unchaperoned fashion. Learning to problem solve and act independently is generally a positive experience and a necessary one since most of us grow up and come to rely on ourselves.

But the transparency of schools is not simply an unavoidable consequence of the institution. Schools also serve the equally important function of guardian and audience to abusive domestic situations. Homeschooled children with abusive parents or relatives have fewer people to aid them. Children are already unlikely to challenge their parents, typically a helping hand is required. Now imagine you don’t have a single adult you know aside from your own mother or father. Teachers and school administrations act as an important arm of social services which can watch-out for and address abusive scenarios in the home.

What does this have to do with religious indoctrination? What does it not have to do with it? The great majority of people homeschooling their children are concerned for their child’s ‘moral’ or ‘religious’ well-being. Parents that can hide their children from the watchful gaze of open schools can also brainwash them with beliefs that will go unchallenged for the great majority of their childhood. What kind of an education is that? What is an education that does not enforce the utility of critical thought and debate? This, however, is hardly surprising when we consider the nature of religion and its intense hatred of scrutiny.

The second major problem with homeschooling is qualifications. If teaching grades K through 12 in all relevant subjects is so easy that an evangelical with nothing but a GED can do it, then why do we force teachers in private and public institutions to acquire Master’s Degrees in a specialty, to which they are generally restricted? It seems to me that the reason is clear, because if we want to ensure a certain degree of legitimacy the person needs to be appropriately certified. They also need to be examined so as to make sure they are not absolute crackpots. But when we allow parents to just decide one day to play teacher over largely paranoid fears of violence and immorality in schools we perforce shackle thousands of children to a society of only two people; their parents.

It is true that religion may have nothing to do with some of the dangerous cases of homeschooling but anyone who has visited Home Schoolers Anonymous will see that often times, it does.

Let’s now play a little game in which we imagine some of the nightmarish situations that some homeschooled children may find themselves in.

Gay teenager who has been told all his life that homosexuals are hell-bound and because he is homeschooled and his internet, books, and television are constantly surveilled and policed, he has no knowledge to the contrary. Suicide anyone?

A young girl going through puberty has some reasonable questions about her menstruation cycle and her emerging breasts and pubic hair but her only resource are two parents who are so biology-illiterate they can scarcely utter the word uterus without convulsing. Recipe for confusion and terror?

A 12 year-old is sexually molested by her parent every night and is told that this is entirely normal. This person has no one but her parents and the people they allow her to see to ask about these terrifying midnight congresses. Cause for two decades on the couch?

It is likely the case that many homeschooled children probably get by with a relatively unproblematic education and experience but did they really benefit by this questionable route to such an extent as to justify avoiding open schools? Aside from people in unique health, financial, or professional circumstances, what good argument exists?

This inevitably brings me to the crux of my argument which is that children are entitled to as full and free an education as we can give them. Introducing to them, at a very young age, a muddled, unsubstantiated, and dangerously out-of-date theory as to the creation of all and purpose of everything is so markedly irresponsible I am shocked it requires mentioning.

Parents do not have the right to tell or do to their children anything they want if the well-being of the child is to be considered. If that ‘anything’ is diametrically opposed to known fact then this constitutes an obvious instance of educational malpractice if in the role of educator. Imagine a parent that told their child who suffered from a terrible infection that antibiotics were not ‘natural’ and deprived them of this lifesaving medicine?

If not in the role of educator and we consider only the role of parent, then is it not still psychological abuse to manipulate your children with lies about eternal damnation? Threatening to ground a child is one thing, telling them they will suffer to an extent that makes Auschwitz look like Port Aventura is quite another.

It is certainly true that we cannot police what parents say to their children behind closed doors, nor should we try very hard to do so. But we should not state sanction the lies and psychological abuse that religious homeschooling can yield. The least we can do is offer the opportunity of various second opinions in the public sphere.

Even mild religious schooling at the hands of parents daring enough to unleash their children into the wilderness of the public are taught from very young ages that their parents’ religion is the on true faith but you should still respect other religions as though they too were equally legitimate. Is this not strange since these people are apparently dealing in the salvation of souls? What kind of message does this send about logic, debate, critical thought, and truth? What it says is that whatever you want to be true can be, you just need believe it.

We would never presume to teach Marxist theory to a 5 year-old and yet this is precisely what we do with religious doctrine. Though at least in political instruction it actually necessitates that you be aware of other positions. One cannot understand Marxism without the backdrop of capitalism. Believers, however, are content with the tuition of one faith at the exclusion of all others.

Responsible states safeguard their citizens’ educations from the choke-hold of superstition and the ignorant. Responsible parents encourage their children to be as self-developed, knowledgeable and independent as possible – anything less is untenable. If we do not condone cults and if we do not condone lying, why do we condone it on religion’s behalf? And if we believe in the right to education, then why don’t we allow all our children access to a good one?

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