“Worse Than Any House I Saw on My Little Island”: A Homeschooled MK’s Thoughts on the Naugler Family

Our eating table. We're sitting on either buckets or the captains chairs. It was my birthday.

Our eating table. We’re sitting on either buckets or the captains chairs. It was my birthday.

Danica is a MK and homeschool alumni. She blogs at Ramblings of an Undercover TCK.

I came across an article about Joe and Nichole Naugler on my newsfeed today and clicked on it out of curiosity. As a quasi-homesteader myself (we live on ten acres, have chickens, and aim towards a self-sufficient lifestyle), who was also homeschooled and has homeschooled my own kids, I was interested to see for myself the ‘horrible living conditions’ mentioned in the article.

I was highly skeptical that the conditions were really all that bad.

See, my personal definition of ‘livable’ is very different from the average American’s definition of ‘livable’. This is because I grew up, not in America, but on a small Pacific island called Luaniua, in the Ontong Java atoll.  Do a search for it on Google Earth, and you’ll find my family’s little house still standing, just behind the church at the center of the village.

One of the village houses.  Our village was kept pristine — no trash anywhere.

One of the village houses. Our village was kept pristine — no trash anywhere.

The house was tiny, only 900 square feet.  It stood five feet off of the ground on stilts, had mat walls woven from coconut fronds, and a corrugated tin roof which both housed our solar panels, and also funneled drinking water into our rain tank.  The floor was 2×4 timbers, each spaced about a centimeter apart.  This was helpful when sweeping, because food would fall through the cracks to the chickens waiting below, but also provided the village kids hours of entertainment by way of poking little sticks up through the cracks into our bare feet above.  The cracks also allowed mosquitos to come up into the house when the monsoon rains left puddles for them to propagate by the millions, so Dad used to pay us 25 cents a ‘line’ to Elmer’s glue strips of cardboard into the cracks.

The front door, accessible by steps made of more 2×4’s (everything in the house was built of 2×4’s, plywood, or mats), was rigged with a rope that stretched to a pulley under the eaves, then down to a heavy conch shell that pulled it shut with a slam whenever anyone went in or out.  The locals were convinced that we had affixed that conch shell as a tribute to our ancestors (it was at the front door of the house, and anyone who entered had to pass by it, so logically speaking it was there to protect the family, obviously), and wouldn’t be dissuaded no matter how many times we tried to tell them otherwise.  The front door opened into the veranda, which stretched across the entire front of the house.  Here is where we ate our meals together as a family, and also entertained people who stopped by.  It was a long but narrow room, so Dad rigged up the dinner table by attaching it to hinges to the wall.  At meal times, we’d lower it down.

After we were done eating, we’d raise it back up like a drawbridge, and you could access the whole room again.  We had two folding captain’s chairs and took turns sitting in those, while everyone else sat on 5 gallon buckets of rice or flour.  Mom cut squares out of plywood, padded them with some foam egg crate, then covered them with cloth.  These we used to lean against the wall, or put on the buckets as seats (5 gallon buckets can get really uncomfortable if you sit on just the lids for extended periods of time – plus, the lids wear out and the seats protected the lids from all that use).

My sister and I on the veranda grating coconut (and feeding the cat).

My sister and I on the veranda grating coconut (and feeding the cat).

Our little 900 square foot house was divided into thirds.  The front third was the veranda.  The middle third housed the kitchen and the girls’ room, side by side.  From the kitchen you could access the back third, which was the boys’ room and my parents’ room.  My sister’s and my room was barely wide enough to accommodate our two beds, which my dad built against opposite walls on lofts, with about three feet between them.  At the foot of my bed, was the wall of fiction books.  At the foot of my sister’s was the food safe.  Under our beds were our desks (built from more 2×4’s and plywood), and our ‘closets’, which were the shipping crates we had used to move all our stuff from America, to the island.

My two brothers slept in a bunk bed, with their clothes stored underneath in plastic containers.  One wall of their room was dedicated to our nonfiction books, including an entire set of encyclopedias and all of our school books.  Both of their desks were also in that room, and there was just enough room in their back corner for our solar powered fridge.  My parents’ room was mostly taken up with their bed (all of our beds consisted of 2 inch thick foam mattresses), with a desk on one side and another shipping-crate-turned-closet on the other.  The space under their bed was for storing boxes of canned goods, other supplies, and more buckets of flour, rice, oats, sugar, and powdered milk.

Me washing a pot on the beach.

Me washing a pot on the beach.

The kitchen had laminate counter-tops, made from the lids of the shipping crates that my mom had the foresight to have laminated back in America.  She cooked all our family meals on a single Bunsen burner.  We had a sink that was connected to the rain tank outside, which we didn’t use for washing dishes (that would have been a waste of precious drinking water).  The kitchen also had more storage for more 5 gallon buckets.  There was a chalk board taking up one entire wall.  Our ham radio was also in the kitchen.

No space was left unused.  The rafters above were lined with shelves, which housed more boxes of canned goods.  We came out to the village for several months at a time, and we had to bring enough food for our entire village stay, out with us.  Extra school supplies, toiletries, birthday presents, tampons, batteries, first aid supplies … whatever we’d need were stored up in those rafters.  Under the house, we had clothes lines, clothes washing station, and a dish washing station, as well as several more buckets for carrying water from the well, and a couple tubs for washing.

This was the house I grew up in, my home for seven years. This was normal for me.  

This is why I really don’t fret about cobwebs in my house here in America, or the sink faucet that doesn’t work unless you twist it just so, or my perpetually dirty floors, or the moths that dive bomb my light when I read at night.  It’s also why I was skeptical when I first read the article about the Nauglers.

Surely this was just a bunch of first world Americans complaining about first world problems.

Surely the Nauglers’ living conditions weren’t that bad.

We daily swept dirt out with coconut brooms. Here's me sweeping the path behind our house.

We daily swept dirt out with coconut brooms. Here’s me sweeping the path behind our house.

Then I clicked on the link to their Facebook page, showing pictures of their house.

The ‘house’ that the Nauglers live in with their ten children is worse than any house I saw on my little island.  It was even dirtier and more poorly kept than the grass huts most of the Islanders lived in.

And the Island huts had dirt floors!  

I have lived in what I feel are the sparsest of living conditions, but even a grass hut with an earthen floor can be kept clean.  And this was in the third world, on an island that had a ship visiting it only every four months or so, where there was little electricity and no vehicles, and everything had to be built literally by hand.

There is absolutely no excuse for a family who lives in America, where there is a Home Depot or Walmart within even a day’s driving distance, to live in such conditions.  

The Nauglers are deliberately depriving their children of running water, a warm home in the winter, and even their own beds to sleep in.  More than that, they are depriving their children of an understanding of how to function in the world they will eventually inhabit.  I had to learn how to use a microwave, how to cook on an electric stove, how to operate a washing machine, skills that most American kids learn young, I learned as a teenager.  I know from personal experience that the Naugler kids will have to learn all of this, not to mention the ‘hidden curriculum’ of how to relate to their peers who grew up in typical American homes.  Their parents are depriving them of physical comforts now and key skills they need for when they are adults.

This isn’t an issue of civil liberties.

It’s an issue of stubborn, close minded adherence to a way of living even our forefathers were working to rise out of.

29 comments

  • “It’s an issue of stubborn, close minded adherence to a way of living even our forefathers were working to rise out of.”

    When this story first broke, before the 3-walled “tent” was discovered, some of my friends wondered why we were all freaked out, when these people were just living like our ancestors did. Your comment puts to words what my thoughts were… sure, the early settlers may have lived in conditions like these at first, but they worked very hard to improve their situation as quickly as possible! Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family didn’t stay in the dugout house, or the “shanty” on the prairie in the later books. “Pa” was constantly working to build better and larger houses! Even in the dugout, “Ma” is described as working very hard to keep the home clean. As you pointed out, even a dirt-floored home can be kept clean.

    When missionaries come to churches and show slides to try to either explain the field or garner sympathy (their reasons may vary depending on the missionary themselves!), they’ll sometimes show the “shanty towns” or “slums” in their field. The Nauglers’ house looks even worse than many of the third-world homes I’ve seen on missionary slide shows! Perhaps you can get away with an open-walled home in the tropics, as you describe on your island, but in an area where it’s cold in the winter, with snow several times through the season, an open-walled home doesn’t offer enough protection from the elements.

    I hope the Naugler children can adjust to life in modern America. I’m sure it’s traumatic for them to be taken from the only family they’ve had, so I hope they’re able to adjust quickly, and go on to lead happy, “normal” lives!

    • Yeah, that’s what I was thinking this morning actually! That most of the third world lives in very clean, orderly villages and homes, no matter how rudimentary. The only time you see people in conditions like those that the Nauglers live, are when they are in slums such as the Guatemalans who live in the garbage dumps. And it’s usually people living on the fringes of cities, which points to that government’s inability to care for its disenfranchised citizens rather than a free choice the people make to live that way – those living in villages away from the cities have a stable community structure to fall back on, and although sparse, their lives are pretty good.

      • Jenny Islander

        Yes, this. Somebody at another site compared the Nauglers’ “house” to an African kraal–but even kraals are kept scrupulously clean, with all cow poo picked up and humans not allowed to use the place for a toilet!

        People all over the planet understood that mud, rotten food, stinky gross water, and poo make people sick before they had any idea that germs existed.

      • Jenny, yes! We pooped, and washed dishes and also cleaned fish in the ocean, but kept it all very separate – the bodily functions happened on the ocean side of the island, where the tides washed everything out twice a day, and the dishes and food prep happened on the lagoon side of the island,where the water was more still. And pigs were kept on the beach, far away from houses … and no dogs actually because they were considered too dirty and the community decided to ban them from the island (third world dogs are naasssssty)

  • I think the issue is that a lot of people love to romanticize living off the grid, “roughing it”, and so on, buuuuut don’t always realize that there are good and bad ways to do it. You can’t just go into the woods and decide to live like that one day, you need lots of skills and knowledge. I only see houses like this Naugler one in like, slums and refugee camps, you know, people in extreme situations who have no other choice. (and those people aren’t what I’d call happy and healthy) If you want to live without modern conveniences, that’s fine, but ya gotta know what you’re doing. People in these villages grow up learning how to maintain their homes. People in the US who decide to live like this properly spend a lot of time learning what they need to know. Going off without the proper skills and equipment doesn’t make you a cool nonconformist, it makes you an idiot.

  • YES YES YES.
    I grew up in “the third world” about 2 hours from a city with grocery or department stores. We bought all our fruit and vegetables and rice at an open-air market where the ladies used fly-swatters to crate an air current to drive off the cloud of bugs that were drawn by the raw, hanging meat and the old fruit from the last day that had fallen into the walkway.

    Our home had lizards and bugs in it constantly due to the holes in the screen on the windows and doors. Out pets had fleas and they slept in the house. We had walls and a floor, but the inner and outer walls were about a foot apart (no insulation because tropics) and skinny komodo-dragon-like creatures who lived under the house and ate fish from the fish-ponds next to the house and mice from between the walls could often be heard (at any hour of the day or night) climbing up to the second story and fighting with one-another and catching food. Every now and then one got into the house by accident, and we had to find a way to capture it or drive it out without anyone getting bitten or breaking anything valuable.
    We had a woodpile on the side of the house where we discarded anything wooden that might have a use later on for kids crafts or projects. One time when my cat climbed it and I needed to get her for some reason, I tumbled off the pile and fell onto a nail sticking out of a board that embedded itself into my calf. When I called for help the nail was pulled out and I was taken to the town doctor immediately where I got a tetanus shot and the wound cleaned out. For Christmas (before my dad nixed it for being a pagan holiday) my 10th year I was given the gift I had requested: a sphygmomanometer and a stethoscope and I was taken on a field trip to the hospital to learn how to take blood pressure. We were given all our childhood shots, and my mother bought hundreds of books for us to read, along with asking supporters to ship us more. I spent hours of my pre-teen years crying over Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables. My favorite books of all time are The Count of Monte Christo and the Scarlet Pimpernel.

    The “natives” lived in bamboo houses elevated off the ground, but they all had mats at the door to wipe their feet on, and their outhouses were kept separate and newspaper was used for wiping. These conditions in these pictures are deplorable, and this MK can attest to the inhabitants of the third world being MUCH cleaner than these children.

  • I was fascinated and at once repelled by this strange story and read the Naugler’s FB page, blogs to understand more. I did not want to judge and condemn them without an eye to a different side to this story. What is evident to me is that they were living decently in a rented home until about 3 years ago when, for unknown circumstances they left that home and went off-grid on a very rural piece of property. The writing between the lines tells me that family economic difficulties, along with the continued births of children, meant they probably could not afford the rent anymore. But in deciding to “homestead”, it is apparent that the family still did not have the resources to do this properly, with a basic sturdy and adequate structure as well as cooking and sanitation facilities, never mind water. It seems like they were just winging it, and Mom was spending a lot of time blogging, taking photos and letting her children raise one another.

    What is upsetting about this picture is that by the parents’ “choice” to live “in freedom” from most of society leaves the children impoverished, and by not sending the kids to school, they are leaving this brood ill-equipped to function in society, which they will all eventually need to do in order to support themselves. Selfish parents—-continuing to have children they cannot support even as decently as in a 3rd world country.

    • There are hundreds of comments on the BLH Facebook page that state things such as:

      -“but all our ancestors lived this way.”
      -“the Indians lived just like this for thousands of years and did just fine.”
      -“all the third world lives this way and they are thriving.”

      But quite clearly those commenting often know little to nothing about:

      -Historic homesteading or the pioneer experience.

      -Native American cultures or living conditions.

      -Third world traditional cultures and living conditions.

      The sum total of their knowledge and experience in regards to these issues often appears to be taken from watching “The Little House on the Prairie” TV program and flipping through a few old copies of “National Geographic” in the waiting room of the local Jiffy Lube.

      Pairing this state of ignorance with preconceived notions of libertarianism and religious dogmatism, and most of the positive feed back this family has received can be explained.

      My belief is that most of the positive feed back this family has received has nothing to do with the actual situation itself, and everything to do with a knee jerk reaction against perceived government overreach.

      • I’m an anthropology major, so I have my share of knowledge on how Native Americans of various cultures lived. And I don’t know of any tribe that lived like this on a regular basis.

      • Very Blue Avatar

        “THE GUB’MENT DUN TOOK OUR RIGHTS!!! THEY WANNA STEAL OUR CHILLEN!”

        I have nothing to do with homeschooling but I’ve been following this story a few days now on news sites and this blog. It’s hilarious how people was so quick to come to a conclusion that the “evil overreaching government” took the children of this family for “no reason” other than that they was homesteading/homeschooling even though most of the facts still haven’t been released. Only the Nauglers shared their side of the story so far but they already made up their minds that the children were “stolen” from them and the parents were totally innocent.

        I’m sure with other events that have been heavily covered lately (baltimore, ferguson) they would condemn people for making up their mind and reacting to a story without knowing all the facts first. But it’s okay to quickly come to a conclusion for this story without knowing most of the facts as long as it supports their “evil government conspiracy to take all their rights away”. It seems this story was mostly reported on super right wing conspiracy websites like infowars first anyway . Maybe the Nauglers decided not to give their children SS numbers and BC because they’re conspiracists too?
        .
        I have no problem with homeschooling or homesteading/off-grid living. It seems kind of nice but I could never do it.
        But people are going to have very negative connotations of these lifestyles from all the support these home school and off-grid groups/people are giving to this family.
        Since it seems like this off-grid living thing isn’t working out for this family they should move into a city or town, the husband should get a job, and swallow their pride and apply for government help.

    • very well said
      what is more surprising to me how many blogs and facebooks Nauglers have asking for donations
      this is 3x Nicole starting grooming business being pregnant again
      Nicole was always breadwinner but subservient to master Joseph

      this info is from Joseph facebook where he is “Assistant Marketing Director at Groomer Nicole” what a joke!!!

      Joseph Naugler … click on the link posted and know that this is serious…… you have no rights…. no due process…. and the “authority” will do whatever they please…. there is audio recordings posted… but be warned it is not for the light hearted…. they physically assault my pregnant wife because she tried to stand up for her right

      that man have no shame
      hiding behind skirt of his pregnant wife and children
      all this recording was “planned ” well ahead and Joe send there Nicole
      on the tape Joe was harassing police officers that all this would go viral….so he have some connections how to manipulate
      Joe is a con artist, it is just a scam to get more money from donation, for house, new car, new computers,etc…

      • Nicole said that she plans to use the money for 10 laptop computers. This is so typical of people who have no concept of money and how to manage it. They are like- look we got 45,000 dollars- we can go on a shopping spree. Think how much pot (Joe apparently loves marijuana) I can buy, etc. etc. It’s like when you see that shiny Cadillac next to a house that’s falling down. Stupid people.

  • You know, you can say all you want regarding the cleanliness of their home. BUT you know what? There is so much more to a home than cleanliness. This family is taking life back to basics..and I applaud them. THEY see value in spending time together, cooking, cleaning, baking, making cheese, tending to the farm animals..etc,,,THEIR living life…it rains, it snows, its windy, etc and it gets dirty. Nobody is sick. They’re all healthy, GORGEOUS children, being raised by their parents who are enjoying the raw land that God gave us. AND were SUCEEEDING just fine until people thought it was appropriate to stick their nose in their family choices. OK, so she didn’t file a piece of paper registering as a homeschooling family. That’s easily remedied. It’s not an easy life their living here…they are all sacrificing, purposefully, but, it’s very close to how God has intended. I personally am praying for this family. Just because they can live more advanced here in America…doesn’t mean they want to, and that doesn’t make them wrong. JUST like it didn’t make it wrong for you to be on an island as a child. You probably could have come to America if your parents thought it was important enough. The fact that some people think they would be better off being a ward of the state is just crazy. Their managing and they have their dignity, they are not living off the system.

    • They’re not managing. The children have had at least one bout of probable food poisoning – that’s not me saying it, that’s the mom. They’ve had serious injuries – deep wounds, burns – that weren’t treated at a doctor. They’re bringing weapons when trespassing on the neighbor’s property. They’re begging for funds because they can’t feed themselves – and you know, I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for help when you need it, but that’s not “managing”.

    • Oh, so not taking government assistance, when you actually need it, but bilking church members and other generous people of rent money, clothing, furniture, housing and now $70,000 is not living off the system? Hundreds of people who live within the system have been subsidizing this family for years.

      Today Nicole Naughler alienated plenty of people with her crackpot political beliefs that her family doesn’t want to be “a rat in a cage” but wants to “live free”. Free to live off of other people.

      Common sense (to most) dictates you don’t keep bringing more children into the world if you are already struggling to provide for the ones you have.

    • Please! Managing? Give me a break! They couldn’t even grow a basic vegetable garden! It’s not hard. But it probably is if you have to physically weed and water it and your watering consists of stealing. There is no excuse for living like a pig! Being poor or falling on hard times happens, but you get your butt out and work and provide for your kids. Joe is lazy. That’s obvious. Then compounded with not having socials for most of the kids they couldn’t even get help or Wic. Then nicole has the audacity to say she doesn’t need welfare but sure isn’t too proud to beg online for help or money and take donations from their church! I’m sorry but they only have themselves to blame. There is no excuse for what they’ve put those innocent kids through. Not in America. They don’t even have the excuse of no education or not having resources or whatever. You can tell they’re both intelligent. This whole situation infuriates me! Lol

    • Close family life is great. And there is more to life than cleanliness. But if you have kids you have to cover some basics in your back-to-basics lifestyle. At a bare minimum kids need a home that provides a source of fresh water and some system of waste removal. The Nauglers did not truck in water or drill a well; instead they relied on neighbors to provide them with water free of charge. And then they became angry when after several years that charity dried up. They did not build an outhouse; instead reports indicate they have a system of a few open shallow trenches and slop buckets. (Open pools of untreated sewerage is a significant health hazard.) Their home does not appear to offer much protection from the elements; one of the first things pioneer families did was build a permanent structure with four walls, an attached roof and a woodburning stove or fireplace for cooking and heating. Sometimes the early cabins even had plank floors. If the Nauglers had just begun homesteading, they would have my utmost sympathy. Establishing a homestead for a family of 12 requires work and money; there are bound to be some less than ideal short-term solutions in the start-up phase. But they’ve been homesteading for several years. Many of their less than ideal short-term solutions appear to have become a permanent way of life. IMO it’s time for the parents to concentrate on making substantial progress in basics like shelter, water and waste removal. Their kids deserve it.

  • NO PARENT SHOULD “WANT” THEIR CHILDREN TO LIVE IN FILTH AND POVERTY. HOW HORRIBLE AND CRUEL. THE FAT LAZY ASS FATHER NEEDS TO WORK AND THE MOTHER NEEDS TO STOP HAVING CHILDREN. LIVING OFF THE GRID SHOULD NOT DESTROY A YOUNG LIFE’S MIND , HEALTH AND FUTURE. BOTH PARENTS NEED TO BE IN PRISON.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      One comment claimed Fat Lazy Ass Father DID try to work — as a drug dealer — but failed because he helped himself to his stock and smoked it all up before he could sell any of it. Sounds like something out of Fabulous Furry Freak Bros.

  • I was made aware of this story because I live “off the grid” in a sustainable home. My wife and I are currently adopting a child out of the foster care system and have been approved by the state to do it. Why? Probably because my wife and I have electricity consistently, running water throughout our home, a flushing toilet, a wood cook stove and heat in the winter, and a propane cook stove in the summer. There is more going on here than simply living off grid and home schooling. https://livingasustainabledream.wordpress.com/

  • Jenny Islander

    I’ve read more about what the Nauglers themselves say they’re doing. They are owner-financing the land; it’s either theirs or in the process of becoming theirs. Doesn’t that mean that they can use the fruit of that land, such as the trees? To build, oh, a cabin? The land had a well and septic in place from a previous occupation. They never got either of them going? The place looks like an illegal dump or someplace where teenagers to go party. When the shack falls down in a few years due to the main supports being planted directly into the ground, will anybody who doesn’t already know the story realize that it was a place where children slept? And at least some of those children were never registered. If they have to establish their identities as adults, and they point to the Blessed Little Homestead (sic!) as their former residence–how could they even prove that anyone had lived there at all? (Judging by their previous career, I suspect that Mr. and Mrs. Naugler are not going to be at that address by this time next year, even if they avoid prison time.)

    • Sooooo I was wrong. Here we are in October and the last I checked, they’re still there. At least they’re packed into a garden shed with four actual walls.

  • Pingback: Children of Joe and Nicole Naugler to Remain in State Care | Homeschoolers Anonymous

  • I read this blog and thought it aligned nicely with Wende Benner’s article.

    http://ramblingsofanundercovertck.blogspot.com/2015/05/thoughts-on-naugler-family.html

  • Pingback: 10 Homeschooled Children of Joe and Nicole Naugler Once Again Under Parental Custody | Homeschoolers Anonymous

  • Pingback: Our Top 21 Most Viewed Posts of 2015 | Homeschoolers Anonymous

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