Evangelicalism Built Up the Homeschool Movement

"Influenced by the works of Edith Schaeffer and Mary Pride, the Quiverfull ideal reached the hands of the homeschool leaders."

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on January 1, 2013.

I lot of people have commented on my blog about my legalistic background (saying my story is unique). But honestly, I don’t find my story all that unique because of the way the evangelicals influenced the homeschool movement at large. Let me example.

I have mentioned that I was homeschooled in an evangelical family during the 90s and early 2000s. My parents started out homeschooling me for academic purposes (their plans were to keep my younger sister in school/kindergarten and just homeschool me for a year). But soon after they got swept up by the evangelical homeschoolers who were homeschooling for religious reasons.

In the 90s most homeschoolers were evangelical, and most were conservative evangelicals (stressing modesty, courtship, traditional women’s roles) and of the Religious Right.

But here’s the part to understand. Not only were homeschoolers influenced by the evangelicals, but it was the evangelical leaders who provided the gateway and built up the homeschooling movement that swept America in the 80s and 90s.

I recently read Frank Schaeffer’s autobiography. Frank is the son of the famous evangelical intellectual Francis Scaheffer (after his father’s death, Frank left the evangelical world and the Religious Right he helped build). Because he was a missionary kid, he was homeschooled in the 60s — in a foreign country, mind you. He writes,

Where homeschooling had meant freedom for me–albeit chaotic, crazy freedom– homeschooler leaders like Mary Pride (whose books I got published and who owed me her platform) were pushing homeschooling as a means to isolate and brain-wash a generation of children.

Mary Pride’s The Way Home: Beyond Feminism Back to Reality fueled the Quiverfull movement, a movement that taught that sex should be open to life, and Christians should have large families (we are talking 7, 10, 12, even 20 like the Duggars) in order to dominate and overpower evil cities like San Fransisco. Even natural family planning was discouraged in this movement because that is still birth control, albeit natural.

One way reason Frank Schaeffer was able to get Mary Pride’s book published is his father, Francis Schaeffer, literally had brought Crossway Books to fame. Here is Frank, talking about those who stayed at their missionary house in Switzerland.

The evangelical elite didn’t stay in dorms but rented big chalets, as did Billy Zeoli and many others, including Lane Dennis. Lane was the publisher and editor at Crossway Books. In the case of Lane Dennis, he also came to woo two of the hottest evangelical authors, and to inspire a third to being to write: me.

Lane was kind and honest man. We all liked him, and soon Mom and Dad gave Lane their new books to publish. Actually, I did. I was acting as their agent. (Several years later, on the strength of the Schaeffer book sales, Crossway went from being an obsure mom-and-pop tract-printing company to one of the major evangelical publishers.)

Frank Schaeffer and his father also started the Religious Right; they actually went to leaders like Pat Robinson, Jerry Fawell, and James Dobson, and asked the religious leaders to make abortion a religious issue. Before the Schaeffer team, abortion was a Catholic, not evangelical, issue.

In other words, the Religious leaders, such as Francis Schaeffer, that built the Religious Right endorsed homeschooling too. This meant that evangelicalism, homeschooling, and the Religious Right all intertwined for the conservative homeschoolers of the 90s. .

When Mary Pride talked about the great Edith Schaeffer and her son Frank, it didn’t hurt that Frank had been homeschooled:

The evangelical homeschool movement was becoming profoundly anti-American. And Dad and I had done our part to empower them. The biggest laugh of all was that my home “school” experience was held up by some as proof that homeschooling was a great thing! Edith Schaeffer had homeschooled the great pro-life firebrand Franky, so this must work!

Mary Pride sites Mrs. Schaeffer’s book The Hidden Art of Homemaking a lot in her book. She says it was Mrs. Schaeffer’s homemaking skills that made their missionary house what it was. Read: because of a woman devoted to the home (where she homeschooled her son), thousands were able to be evangelized.

Of course, there were other evangelical leaders who got behind homeschooling, such as James Dobson, but again, this is not surprising because of what the evangelical community had begun to stand for.

There were many parents I knew (including many evangelicals) who were homeschooling who used their daily contact with their children to expand, not diminish, their children’s exposure to the bigger world. That said, by the 1970s the evangelicals as a whole had come up with an alternate “gated” America: “Christian” education, radio, rock, makeup, publishing, schools, home-schools, weight loss, sex manuals, and politics. It wasn’t about being something but about not being secular, about not having nudity, sex, or four-letter words. What it was for, no one knew.

In other words, the evangelicals reacted to the modern culture (some of which I believe was important to take a stand against), and in their attempts to not “be” secular, they became more of isolationists. This was the perfect environment to foster an evangelical homeschool movement.

And that’s what happened. Influenced by the works of Edith Schaeffer and Mary Pride, the Quiverfull ideal reached the hands of the homeschool leaders. Evangelical followers were ready for a pure lifestyle, a life away from secularism and feminism, and homeschooling provided an easy and safe way to raise children.

*****

It seems America is finally coming out of the evangelical homeschooling (homeschool mandate) stink, in small dosages. Part of this is because unschooling and peaceful parenting have attracted a lot of agnostics and atheists and brought more balance to the homeschooling world. There has always been some non-religious homeschoolers, but they were far between in my day.

Here’s a blog of a homeschool atheists mom as an example. Of course, I support the evangelical’s right to homeschool, but I hope evangelicals homeschool for a reason other than isolationism and purism that we saw in the 90s.

One comment

  • R.L., Thank you for the mention on this post. I appreciate the shout out for my blog. I also appreciate the historical information on homeschooling. I didn’t know most of what you wrote about.
    I recognize that I am standing on the shoulders of giants who came before me in the homeschool movement. Several of my dear friends have homeschooled for 25 years or more and I have learned so much about integrity and autonomy from them.

    Karen
    Homeschool Atheist Momma

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