Snake Oil Homeschooling: The False Promises of Fear and Control

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

A friend of mine recently shared with me a post from Cindy Rollins, a homeschooling mother of 9 children who blogs at Ordo Amoris. The post is entitled “Homeschooling and the Fear of Man.” It is circumstantially about Doug Phillips’ resignation and the fallout that resignation caused within the Christian homeschool movement. But more than that, it is about an overwhelming human emotion everyone can relate to:

Fear.

Fear is a powerful force. When it becomes a motivating factor for our actions, it often leads to control. We try to control our environments — and kids’ environments — because we are afraid. We are afraid of what might happen if we do not control. We are terrified of “the world” and its many “influences” — sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll; secular humanism and evolutionism and all those other spectral -isms.

Having grown up in the Christian homeschool movement and ingested these messages all my life, I really appreciated Cindy’s perspective in her post. Cindy contextualizes Phillips’ resignation within a broader picture of homeschooling “gurus” who peddle their fares among the masses:

Over time gurus age and new ones take their places. Perhaps like viruses the new gurus are stronger than the old ones. They adapt and change to survive… These are men (and women) who make their way into your homes and…lure you because you are afraid. They lure you because you want to be in control of the future. They speak to your worst nightmares and offer you hope and while you are not looking they exchange the gospel for your own lousy efforts and theirs.

I am not a parent myself. But I still understand what she is saying. My parents fought against this trend, but not always successfully. I have seen many other homeschool parents get sucked into this trend and I have seen new parents — homeschool graduates themselves — get sucked in, too. This is the sort of trend that my older brother empathized with yet resisted yesterday: “Living a life without those extra rules can be scary.”

Good, well-meaning parents want the best for their children.

Good, well-meaning Christian parents want their children to thrive in good Christian ways. Rules or formulas give a sense of security. But that desire for security goes haywire when coupled with your worst nightmares, when those nightmares lead you into artificial and stagnant legalism with the false hope of perfect kids.

Furthermore, your worst nightmares — your kid ending up a Satanist or a socialist or 16 and pregnant and twerking — are preyed upon at nearly every homeschool convention and exacerbated in so many parenting books by homeschool “gurus.” People who promise that, if you only follow their system, your kids will be spared from heartache and pain and apostasy.

Cindy minces no words and calls those promises nothing less than “snake oil”:

Even now some homeschool vendors sell their products as if there were spiritual value in them. There are only two words for this type of sales: snake oil. I just keep asking myself why. Why are we so fragile? Why do we fall for this stuff? Why do these people have such power over our minds? The Bible tells us there is no fear in love. Love conquers a multitude of sins.  But we fear and we fall over and over again for false hope.

From my interactions with now-grandparents, older and wiser parents, and new parents, I am aware of how significant this struggle is. This is probably one of the most universal concerns parents have: wanting their kids to be ok, to be mature and independent, to be healthy. And if you are Christian, your desire that your kids remain Christians can override all these other concerns. It is Christianity or bust.

The “Christianity or bust” mentality leads to unfortunately-named articles like “How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home.” This mentality leads to false either/or situations like, “Do you teach your kids ‘be good because the Bible tells you to’ or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace?”

This should be a neither/nor. 

Parents should want their kids to be loving, compassionate, humble, healthy truth-seekers.

Period. 

If Christianity is true, then what better sort of kids to have prepared to embrace it? And if Christianity isn’t true, well, hey — you still have loving, compassionate, humble, and healthy kids.

There is no product, no curriculum, no educational option that will guarantee the condition of your child’s soul. I have seen friends raised with every creationist text imaginable become evolutionists. I have seen friends raised with hardly a whiff of creationism become hardcore fundamentalists. There is no guaranteed outcome. Even that stay at home daughter you know, the one who seems perfect and happy — one day her parents will be dead and she will have to figure out life for herself. That is just how life works. The person that today seems to have his or her life together might in two decades be convicted of child abuse. The person who today is doing lines of cocaine in a strip club might in two decades be changing the world. Life happens. There is no guaranteed outcome. 

But I can tell you what is constant: kids wishing home was a safe place. Kids wishing their parents loved and accepted them.

That is what you have control over. You have control over whether you show your children love and acceptance, whether you model for them the love you see in Christ — the self-sacrifice, the unconditionality, the grace and forgiveness and patience. When you model that sort of love, you are seeing your children as human beings, as autonomous creatures rather than IKEA furniture. As Cindy says,

At no time should our goal be to make our children into artifacts. There is a difference between a soul and a product.

16 comments

  • Great post!

  • You’d be an awesome dad. Fantastic article, Ryan.

  • Such a good post! Still need to hear this myself (as a parent), repeatedly. And for that matter, I’m still trying to learn to be a “loving, compassionate, humble, healthy truth-seeker” myself. Period.

  • This was moving. I enjoyed reading it.

  • “But I can tell you what is constant: kids wishing home was a safe place. Kids wishing their parents loved and accepted them.”

    This. So much this. I am 52 years old and my parents still don’t accept me for who I am. That’s why I try so hard to accept my son for who and what he is, with all his quirks.

  • Love this. It explains what is missing in a family dominated by the snake oil ideology. It’s really hard for some of my friends who were raised in non-snake oil conservative Christian homes to get why my relationship with my parents is more challenging. I will be sending this to people who say, “but just because your parents are conservative Christians and you are not doesn’t mean you can’t have a good relationship.”

  • Best Article so far. public Schooled myself that’s why the bad spelling/ grammar..just kidding. Within, but critical of homeschooling movement a long time. Since my now senior was in second grade have wanted to pen two articles: “a Peddler in the Road: the mercenary side of Homeschooling”, and “how Homeschooling Can Wreck your Home & other favorite bedtime stories”.

  • Great post! I’ve been homeschooling for over 9 years and have really never been part of the “homeschooling movement”. I’ve tried various outlets with my sons (co-ops, memberships, etc); but I am just too rebellious (lol) and want to do things my way, our way. Most of the social things have been just too weird for us; and I’m too independent to listen to others tell me how I should educate my sons. That’s why I homeschool. It wasn’t always like that though.

    I’ve tried to cookie-cutter (or is it cookie-cut?) the learning process: major fail most of the time.

    I’ve sometimes compared our family to other homeschool families, or my sons with others (in my earlier days): pointless. Everyone’s different.

    And I do have concerns about the condition of the world we live in, and wonder: will my sons walk this life close to Christ? But worrying adds nothing to my life (Jesus’ words).

    I fully agree that the most important facet in our lives is loving each other. My sons know my faith in Christ is solid. They know I’m not going to let them be deceived, as clearly there is enormous deception in the church/Christianity. I don’t follow manmade rules nor strange interpretations of the bible. My sons know that and see that. They know I love Jesus, and that I also love them wholly.

    But as you’ve described, fear is being used in many ways, not just in homeschooling, but Christendom as a whole. And it’s coming from “Christian” leaders from every corner. I posit that many of these leaders are not genuine believers. Christ set us free, for freedom! Not to be subdued by fear. In fact, clearly we are given warning after warning in the New Testament to not be deceived …. Yet Christ also said quite often, do not fear.

    For me, if it’s a choice between struggling to force an educational (or spiritual) point, or having grace and just loving my child where he is at, I choose the latter. Any day.

    I pray people come out from under the oppression, fear-mongering, and man-made doctrine going on in the “homeschool movement”.

    Be blessed.

    “Grace”

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