Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Needs of the One Cannot Define the Needs of the Many

A writer by the name of Libby Anne wrote an excellent essay on growing up as a homeschooled child in a Christian patriarchal family. The title of her essay is “My Life as a Daughter of Christian Patriarchy.” It is a well written, refreshingly (and painfully) honest, and enlightening piece of writing that you can find here. Libby Anne explained and discussed the issues she faced growing up in a Quiverfull family. While explaining the challenges she faces as a young woman who disagrees with the religious tenants of her childhood, she made a startling and dangerous statement when she blamed homeschooling for the lifestyle in which she was raised.

The Quiverfull movement is a branch of the evangelical Christian community that strictly adheres to the standard of raising daughters to be helpmates for, and subjugated to, husbands and fathers. Boys are raised to become the head of the household and providers for a family. There are stringent rules for behavior in this movement that clash with modern sensibilities concerning life in a free and democratic society. Unsurprisingly, Quiverfull children are not allowed to interact with modern society in the same manner of the average American child. Frequently, Quiverfull girls are denied a college education, the rationale being that they don’t need one since they don’t need a career outside of the home.

Libby Anne wrote:

“By now, you may be wondering, how is this possible? How can parents indoctrinate their children in this way? The answer, I would argue, is simple: homeschooling. By homeschooling, these parents can control every interaction their children have and every piece of information their children come upon.

“By homeschooling us, my parents could completely control what we learned.”

But, homeschooling is not the issue here. The responsibility for Libby Anne’s childhood and the problems she faces as a young adult rest solely on her parents and their spiritual and lifestyle choices.

It doesn’t take a homeschooler to be a rigid and controlling parent. Many of us know of children who were or are raised by strict, domineering mothers and fathers. Two of my public high school classmates lived in such a household. Judy and Teresa were very smart girls. They graduated near the top of our class. Their every movement was also controlled by a father who demanded that if school dismissed at 3:15 they should be at home by 3:30. Boys were not allowed to call their house for any reason whatsoever. The girls were allowed out with groups of other girls once in awhile, but with a very early curfew. Dating was forbidden. They were not allowed to attend school dances, including prom, and other activities where boys were present. Weekly attendance at mass was mandatory. The church youth group was their only approved, non-school, coed activity. Would it be a surprise to learn that one of the girls rebelled at age 18? She left home, moved out of state, and got pregnant with her boy friend. Would it be a surprise to learn that she struggled with her self-image, lacked self-confidence, and had weight problems? Would it be a surprise to learn that she was estranged from her parents? Children who are raised in controlling, patriarchal families come from all educational backgrounds.

Libby Anne was raised in a patriarchal, Quiverfull family because her parents made a conscious choice to raise their children in such a manner, not because they chose to teach their children at home. Homeschooling was a tool they used to achieve their ends. It was an instrument for achieving a desired result. Can homeschooling be used to lock children away from the modern world while simultaneously indoctrinating them into an extreme religious lifestyle? Unfortunately, yes it can; but, it is irresponsible to lay the blame on homeschooling. Doing so errantly feeds the arguments of home education critics who believe that all homeschoolers are attempting to indoctrinate their children in radical Christianity while sheltering them from the real world. It ignores the thousands of secular homeschoolers who simply wish to provide their children with a better education than the one provided by their local public school. It ignores the needs of parents who choose homeschooling to address their children’s special needs, needs that the local school cannot or will not meet. Homeschooling is not Christianity, Christianity is not homeschooling, and allowing the two to become intricately intertwined in the public eye serves neither the homeschooling movement nor Christ. Libby Anne’s story will become the example du jour for those people who wish to outlaw home education for everyone. Her story cannot be allowed to become another arrow in the homeschooling critic’s quiver.

My heart goes out to Libby Anne. I am grateful that she shared her story. It is an important story. I know that regaining one’s voice and speaking out is a necessary step in the recovery process when one person feels like their voice has been silenced. Libby Anne did so eloquently and powerfully. I hope and pray that she finds peace with her past and her parents.


  1. There are few things in the homeschooling movement that drive me more crazy than parents who say their daughters don't need to go to college. Don't they want their daughters to homeschool their grandchildren? If so, why wouldn't they want those daughters to be as equipped as possible to teach say, the higher math or science courses.

    I've encountered homeschool moms who were so intimidated at teaching algebra (silly in my opinion - I give the book to my kid and tell them to let me know if they need help - it's not rocket science), yet those same moms will say their daughters don't need to go to college. Makes no sense.

    I read a quote a long time ago in a Focus on the Family mag and it says it all. This woman wrote in about how her uncle had asked her dad why she was going to college since she was just going to "get married and have kids." Her father's response was that "when you educate a man you educate one person...but when you educate a woman you educate a whole family."

    I have only one daughter (and three sons). My daughter not only went to college but also has a Master's degree. She would like to marry and stay home and homeschool but that is not the path God has opened to her yet. And also, I have taught my three sons to clean the house! As a Christian it's silly to button-hole our kids into "traditional" roles as if they will never need to know how to do anything else.

    It may sound strong but I truly despise the patriarchal system this young woman was raised under. And I have been a stay-at-home mom for 27 years and homeschooling for over 20 years. But I'm also working on finishing my college education and I help my husband run a contracting business. We should be preparing our sons and daughters for many things!

    1. I'm coming to the party way late, but I will agree with you Anne, that as a homeschool mom myself, it drives me nuts when I hear women who are fearful of math and science. Math is a homemakers tool and science her cleaning partner. But homemaking aside, the world of science and math has much to offer and any child who doesn't receive an education in math and science won't be able to argue apologetics. The lie that has been told to Americans, not just women, is that it is too hard. Americans are lazy. It isn't a religious issue because a Biblical woman must be able to manage her home basically like a business. I don't agree with you that a college degree is necessary to teach your children even through high school. If you went to high school you can teach high school. And teaching it makes you a master of it if you weren't already. If you have ever taught, you will know what I am talking about. You don't really master a subject until you have taught it. That isn't to say that you could walk into a public school and adequately teach a group of 30 students. Much of what is taught in college to teachers is how to navigate the mass institutionalized educational system, not just how to teach Sally and Johnny how to communicate and calculate.

    2. Andrea...thanks for stopping by, reading, and leaving a comment. Late or not, we will always welcome another voice to the dialogue.

  2. Anne, I take great exception to one part of your comment. “When you educate a man you educate one person...but when you educate a woman you educate a whole family,” is one of the most insulting, demeaning, and inaccurate commentaries on fathers that I’ve ever heard. I have to listen to that sexist crap from my father-in-law. That quotes suggests that men are so selfish that they hoard their knowledge, keeping a private collection of facts, ideas, thought processes and experiential lessons that they refuse to share with their spouse and children. Why would any woman want to marry such a man and start a family with him? Good, active fathers (and there are many) teach their children all the time, and they don’t have to be homeschoolers to do it. I’d really like to see that grossly inaccurate quote fall in society’s dustbin and remain there forever.

  3. Whoa...and I thought I could get riled up over things! LOL! I agree with you Arby, but I also understand the spirit in which Anne used the quote! And sadly, in the context of many families over the years, it is not an inaccurate saying. Not only should the quote fall in society's dustbin, but so should the men who are NOT involved in the emotional, spiritual, and practical raising of their children. Kudos to men like you, Arby, who despise both the quote AND the culture that caused the quote to exist!

    Now on to more important things! GREAT article. This movement is not, in any way, about homeschooling. These families are not patriarchal because they homeschool, they homeschool because they are partriarchal. The men believe it is God's desire that they have 100% authority (read "control") over their families. I believe whole-heartedly that scripture teaches that a wife is to be subject to her husband. I also believe that submission that is coerced is not submission. These women (wives and daughters) are not given the choice to submit. It is a mandate. They have no opportunity to have, develop, and use their god-given gifts. They are only encouraged to develop and use the skills needed to be managers of the home. It's so very sad to me.

    And like Anne, I have a daughter who would love nothing more than to marry and have a family to raise and educate. But until the Lord leads her down that road, as a teacher and youth group leader she is happily and skillfully using her gifts AND her education to effect the lives of many children and young people in amazing ways.

    Should my 24 year old daughter really be staying at home serving our family until she marries? Is that really biblical? I certainly don't believe so!!

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this article and your thoughts on this troubling and growing movement within the Christian homeschooling community.

  4. Anne, you touched a nerve with my husband with that quote. In fairness, you were only quoting someone else.

    Understand that my husband isn't attacking you, just having an understandable reaction to a comment after enduring years of attitude of people and quotes such as "A stay at home, homeschooling dad? When will you be fitted for your denim jumper?"

    My husband is amazing at sharing his knowledge and skills with our family. He can disect and explain literature like nobody I've ever known. Yes, I can help my kids with the mechanics of math. But if I want my teenager, who needs to read Heart of Darkness this year, to hear anything beyond "This is the most boring book ever written!" I would be lost without my husband sharing his education and experience with our family.

    Don't take it personally Anne. Like I said, you just struck a nerve. :)

  5. I agree with everyone!

    It is just as ridiculous to think that homeschooling is the cause of oppressive patriarchy as it is to think homeschooling is the cause of child abuse.

    Until a few years ago, I didn't even realize that the Patriarchal Christian existed. Unfortunately, I believe this lifestyle/mentality is what most people think of when they hear the term "homeschooling."

  6. If I could "double like" a post comment, I would double like yours, Boss!!