Homeschooling as a Totalistic Tool


CC image courtesy of Flickr, Send me adrift.

The following article is an excerpt from an upcoming long-form piece on homeschooling and human trafficking.

“I see homeschooling as a tool. Like a gardening hoe, when used correctly it can help bring life and vitality to living things….But used incorrectly, a tool can harm the very things or people it’s meant to help thrive.”

~ Shaney Swift[i]

Homeschooling is “an educational option that allows parents to teach their children at home instead of sending them to school.”[ii] As of 2011, the National Center for Education Statistics determined that 1,770,000 students, or 3.4% of all school aged children, were being homeschooled.[iii] It has been stereotyped as an educational option primarily chosen by conservative Christian evangelicals in the United States. This stereotype is understandable given that the so-called “four pillars of homeschooling”[iv] are all conservative Christian evangelicals who had the specific intention to direct the homeschooling movement.

Homeschooling as a Pedagogical Tool

While conservative Christian evangelicals dominate homeschooling, parents homeschool their children for a diverse number of reasons. While conservative Muslim families, for example, homeschool for many of the same reasons as conservative Christian families,[v] many others homeschool not for ideological but rather pedagogical reasons.[vi] One of the fastest growing segments of the homeschooling population is African-African families, which is notable because for a long time the homeschooling population was “more white than the student population as a whole.” Nonetheless, African-American families are increasingly homeschooling — in fact, “African Americans now make up about 10 percent of all homeschooled children.”[vii] And these families are often homeschooling not for ideological reasons but to escape white supremacy and racism in the curricula, unfair discipline methods, and low standards of achievement within the public school system.

Homeschooling is thus no more or no less than a pedagogical tool — an instrument by which children are educated, in the same way that public and private schools are instruments. How homeschooling is conducted — and whether it is both successful and nurturing on behalf of children — depends on those wielding the instrument, just as success and safety of public and private schools varies depending on their principals, teachers, and staff.

This is an important distinction because claiming a link between homeschooling and any number of negative experiences (for example, child abuse) often meets widespread resistance by homeschooling leaders, organizations, and parents. Such individuals and groups assume that claiming a link exists between, say, homeschooling and child abuse must mean that link is inherent — that homeschooling qua homeschooling leads to abuse. But to claim a link exists is not necessarily to claim that link is inherent. Rather, it is simply to claim there is a link, however inherent or circumstantial the link may be. That homeschooling can play a role in a child abuse case should not be a cause to unilaterally condemn homeschooling. Rather, the fact should give rise to serious reflection as to how this link between homeschooling and abuse can be severed for both the sake of abused children as well as the health and vibrancy of the homeschooling movement itself.

Homeschooling as a Totalistic Tool

Tools can be used for multiple purposes. A hammer can be utilized to hit a nail into a board (and thus become a construction tool) or it can be used to kill a human being (and thus become a murder weapon). In the same way, homeschooling — as an instrument that allows parents to teach their children at home instead of sending them to school — can be wielded as not only a pedagogical tool (to teach children) but also as a totalistic tool (to control children). And just as homeschooling can be highly successful in teaching children, it also can be highly successful in controlling children.

It is the circumstances in which homeschooling is used for the latter purposes (totalistically, to control children) that are of interest to our current examination. By allowing individuals to determine what children are and are not exposed to, homeschooling can become the perfect method for individuals who desire to stratify and consolidate power.

That “perfect method” that homeschooling can become will be notated in this investigation with the term totalism. Totalism is a concept most significantly developed by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton in his 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Totalism as a word is related to totalitarianism, and signifies a psychological form of totalitarianism — the totalitarian monitoring and control of another individual’s behaviors and thoughts. Lifton uses the term to describe the attributes of ideological movements and organizations that aim for total control over people’s behaviors and thoughts. While these movements and organizations may vary in design and goals, they follow common patterns and cause predicable types of psychological damage to those within them.

Defining Totalism and Thought Reform

Totalistic movements and organizations desire total control usually for two reasons: (1) because of a fear and denial of the reality of death and/or (2) a reactionary fear of change. Certain people also personally have totalistic tendencies (selfish desires to control other people), and these people “are particularly attracted to movements, governments, and ideologies which manifest a characteristically totalitarian ideological and persuasive style.”[viii]

Totalistic people, movements, and organizations follow predictable patterns in their attempts to achieve control over others. One area where this is especially manifested is in child-rearing practices. In fact, “child-rearing practices that foster a polarized, black or white, all or nothing emotional and cognitive style (i.e., ‘intolerance of ambiguity’) are the primary cause of the development of Totalism.”[ix]

As one might imagine, parents and communities that foster such black and white, all or nothing atmospheres are often described as “fundamentalist” because of their valuation of fundamental doctrines over and against the humanity and self-worth of individuals. In fact, in the years since he wrote Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lifton has begun to directly equate totalism and fundamentalism:

More recently Lifton has identified Totalism as synonymous with ‘political and religious fundamentalism’ because of fundamentalism’s tendency to define the world in absolute, i.e., dualistic, terms. Lifton has stated that ‘the quest for absolute or “totalistic” belief systems…has produced nothing short of a worldwide epidemic of political and religious fundamentalism’…’Fundamental,’ in Lifton’s view, ‘can create the most extreme expressions of totalism, of the self’s immersion in all-or-nothing ideological and behavior patterns.’ The core element of ideological totalism, in our view, is the radical, absolute division of humanity into dual evaluative categories such as saved/damned, real persons/false persons, human/subhuman, God’s people/’mud people,’ etc.[x]

Because totalistic people are attracted to totalistic communities, movements, and organizations, they often join together and put their totalistic aims into practice through total institutions: places of living and working where large numbers of similar people associate together, cut off from the wider world to lead an enclosed existence as dictated by the totalistic administration in charge. Philosopher Michel Foucault used the phrase complete and austere institutions to describe such places. Foucault noted that, within totalistic institutions (Foucault gave the example of the prison-state), “procedures were being elaborated for distributing individuals; fixing them in space; classifying them; extracting from them the maximum in time and forces; training their bodies; coding their continuous behavior; maintaining them in perfect visibility; forming around them an apparatus of observation, registration, and recording; constituting on them a body of knowledge that is accumulated and centralized. The general form of an apparatus intended to render individuals docile and useful…”[xi] As we shall see, this description aptly captures all sorts of totalistic communities, especially fundamentalist new religious movements.

Lifton labels these procedures — by which individuals are rendered docile and useful — thought reform. Thought reform is the goal of totalism. Totalism aims to mold the behaviors and thoughts of the individuals within its movements and organizations, and thought reform is how that molding happens. It is “the systematic application of psychological and social influence techniques in an organized programmatic way within a constructed and managed environment.” The goal of thought reform is “to produce specific attitudinal and behavior changes” and these changes “occur incrementally without it being patently visible to those undergoing the process.”[xii]

It is important to note that efforts to produce specific attitudinal and behavior changes are not necessarily inappropriate nor are they necessarily totalistic thought reform. Totalistic thought reform is different from regular attempts at change in that they involve “sequenced phases aimed at destabilizing participants’ sense of self, sense of reality, and values.” This destabilization comes from “organized peer pressure, the development of bonds between the leader or (trainer) and the followers, the control of communication, and the use of a variety of influence techniques. The aim of all of this is to promote conformity, compliance, and the adoption of specific attitudes and behaviors desired by the group.”[xiii] In other words, totalistic thought reform hopes for total control of individuals and it accomplishes that through a complex network of peer pressure, top-down management, and careful environment manipulation.

The Eight Criteria

Lifton identifies eight criteria that make up that complex network: (1) Milieu Control, (2) Mystical Manipulation, (3) Demand for Purity, (4) Cult of Confession, (5) Sacred Science, (6), Loaded Language, (7) Doctrine Over Person, and (8) Dispensing of Existence. Lifton says that “the more clearly an environment exercises these eight psychological themes, the greater its resemblance to ideological Totalism; and the more it utilizes such totalist devices to change people, the greater its resemblance to thought reform [or ‘brainwashing’].”[xiv] And in the same way that we noted that totalism often is the same of fundamentalism, it is important to observe that “most of Lifton’s eight motifs of ideological totalism can be derived from a conception of close-knit, authoritarian movements with intense solidarity and adherence to a distinctly apocalyptic and dualistic worldview.”[xv]

We shall briefly examine each of the eight criteria:

(1) Milieu Control

Milieu control means the thought reform environment controls all (or as much as possible) of the human communication within it — both the information coming in and the information coming out. Lifton explains that, “Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual’s communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also – in its penetration of his inner life – over what we may speak of as his communication with himself.”[xvi]

(2) Mystical Manipulation

Mystical manipulation is the manipulation of the individuals by the totalist administration. This manipulation is done in such a way so that members feel as if their behaviors and thoughts spontaneously arose (rather than were forced by the administration). Mystical manipulation is, essentially, “the man behind the curtain” that no one knows exists. Lifton points out that this manipulation is not done simply for the sake of power. Rather, it is done because the values of the totalist environment render it “necessary.” Lifton notes that, “They create a mystical aura around the manipulating institutions – the Party, the Government, the Organization. They are the agents ‘chosen’ (by history, by God, or by some other supernatural force) to carry out the ‘mystical imperative,’ the pursuit of which must supersede all considerations of decency or of immediate human welfare.”[xvii]

(3) Demand for Purity

The demand for purity is a demand to divide the world into what is “pure” and “impure” and avoid and reject everything considered the latter. Lifton describes totalist purity as “those ideas, feelings, and actions which are consistent with the totalist ideology and policy; anything else is apt to be relegated to the bad and the impure.” Dividing the world in this way creates both guilt and shame in individuals when they fail to perfectly avoid and reject what is considered “impure.” That guilt and shame then become tools of control that the totalist administration uses to manipulate people to do what the administration desires.[xviii]

(4) Cult of Confession

The cult of confession is connected to the demand for purity. The inevitable result of the demand for purity is that people will fail, hence the resulting feelings of guilt and shame. And when people do fail, they must confess those failings. A totalist administration will take advantage of this and manipulate people into all sorts of confessions both to enhance the feelings of guilt and shame as well as to gather information about individuals that can be used against them or to exploit them in the future. Lifton describes the cult of confession as confession that is “carried beyond its ordinary religious, legal, and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself. There is the demand that one confess to crimes one has not committed, to sinfulness that is artificially induced, in the name of a cure that is arbitrarily imposed.” In a totalist environment, “confession becomes a means of exploiting, rather than offering solace for, these vulnerabilities.” It also becomes “a means of maintaining an ethos of total exposure – a policy of making public (or at least known to the Organization) everything possible about the life experiences, thoughts, and passions of each individual, and especially those elements which might be regarded as derogatory.” This total exposure adds a dire sense of gravity to “the environment’s claim to total ownership of each individual self within it. Private ownership of the mind and its products – of imagination or of memory – becomes highly immoral.”[xix]

(5) Sacred Science

Sacred science is created when a totalist environment elevates its basic doctrines or ideologies to the level of sacredness, or the ultimate vision for how human existence should be. Once sacred, those doctrines or ideologies are not allowed to be questioned. To question them would be to make oneself “impure.” Indeed, Lifton points out, “if one begins to feel himself attracted to ideas which either contradict or ignore [the sacred doctrines or ideologies], he may become guilty and afraid.” The guilt is from the potential violation of the demand for purity. Lifton says, “Sacredness is evident in the prohibition (whether or not explicit) against the questioning of basic assumptions, and in the reverence which is demanded for the originators of the Word, the present bearers of the Word, and the Word itself.”[xx]

(6) Loaded Language

Loaded language occurs when a totalist environment use words or phrases in new or different ways such that people outside the environment do not know what they mean. This new jargon is used over and over and they become catch phrases, mental short-cuts or what Lifton calls “thought-terminating clichés.” The phrases are pat answers that shut down inquiry. A neutral example would be employing a catch phrase like “God works in mysterious ways” in response to a serious and legitimate question about why bad things happen to good people. “God works in mysterious ways” does not adequately answer the question but it is such a common phrase that one is tempted to just shrug and say, “Well, all right then.” Lifton describes this phenomenon as compressing “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems” into “brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.” An individual who is not allowed to think outside the totalist environment’s sacred science, who is taught only to rely upon this loaded language, “is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed.”[xxi]

(7) Doctrine Over Person

This criterion of thought reform is self-explanatory: the elevation of a totalist environment’s sacred science (its doctrines and/or ideologies) over and against individuals and their experiences within the environment. Individual feelings, thoughts, or experiences that seem to contradict the validity of the sacred science must be subjugated and reinterpreted in accordance with the sacred science, rather than be used as the foundation for it. Lifton describes this as “the subordination of human experience to the claims of doctrine.” He says that, “Doctrinal primacy prevails in the totalist approach to changing people: the demand that character and identity be reshaped, not in accordance with one’s special nature or potentialities, but rather to fit the rigid contours of the doctrinal mold.” Thus abstract ideas become more valuable than the diversity of human life itself because “doctrine – including its mythological elements – is ultimately more valid, true, and real than is any aspect of actual human character or human experience.”[xxii]

(8) Dispensing of Existence

The final criterion for thought reform is dispensing of existence — when a totalist environment “draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right.” This does not always mean actual physical life and death. Rather, a totalist environment might declare, for example, that only its members are “truly human” or “truly alive.” Or it might declare that only those who follow its sacred science will be blessed in the afterlife. This is, of course, a rather audacious claim; indeed, Lifton calls it “arrogance,” but a “mandatory” arrogance because of “the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false.”[xxiii]

As individuals or groups close themselves off to the outside world and begin using any number of these criteria, thought reform happens. This is the goal of totalism: changing the behaviors and thoughts of people so as to gain control.

Homeschooling and Totalism

Homeschooling is, as previously stated, a pedagogical tool. It is simply one of many instruments by which parents or communities can educate children. Other instruments would be public school, private school, online school, or mixed school. However, homeschooling can also be transformed into much more than a pedagogical tool. As a tool, it can have multiple types of utility. As a hammer can be both a construction tool or a tool by which one commits murder, so too can homeschooling be both a tool to teach as well as a tool to control. Indeed, when a totalist environment employs homeschooling, it can become one of the most powerful weapons in the totalist’s arsenal.

When a totalist environment is large — say, encompassing nearly every single individual in a city — other pedagogical tools can become weapons of totalism. For example, if a new religious movement makes up almost the entirety of a small, rural town, movement adherents can fill most of the influential roles in that town — public school principal, public school teachers, public school staff, law enforcement, and so forth. If that is the case, a public school can be transformed into something it is not supposed to be — a weapon to advance the desired thought reform of the new religious movement. This is rare, but it can happen (and has happened). But it also is more complicated and difficult to execute. If one desires to fuse together a child’s education with the desired thought reform of a totalist environment, homeschooling is a particularly simple and effective method.

To better understand this, let us examine four examples of homeschooling in action.

Example One:

A Muslim parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to introduce their children to a vast diversity of information, authors, religious traditions, and political viewpoints. This parent also incorporates into their children’s education many different activities to help their children socialize: park days, science fairs, sports leagues, church events, and so forth. The children are exposed to people from many different walks of life.

Example Two:

A Muslim parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to make sure their children are exposed to only Islam. The parent believes the Koran is the only book worth knowing, and thus the Koran is used by that parent as their children’s only curriculum. This parent believes anyone who is not Muslim is dangerous and can lead their children away from the Truth, and thus does not let their children socialize with anyone outside their faith. The children never interact with people who believe differently from their parent.

Example Three:

A Christian parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to introduce their children to a vast diversity of information, authors, religious traditions, and political viewpoints. This parent also incorporates into their children’s education many different activities to help their children socialize: park days, science fairs, sports leagues, church events, and so forth. The children are exposed to people from many different walks of life.

Example Four:

A Christian parent homeschools their children. This parent uses homeschooling to make sure their children are exposed to only Christianity. The parent believes the Bible is the only book worth knowing, and thus the Bible is used by that parent as their children’s only curriculum. This parent believes anyone who is not Christian is dangerous and can lead their children away from the Truth, and thus does not let their children socialize with anyone outside their faith. The children never interact with people who believe differently from their parent.

Examples One and Three are nearly identical to each other, as are Examples Two and Four. The only difference is the religion to which the parent adheres. If you are a Muslim, you might see no problem with Example Two but you might bristle at Example Four. If you are a Christian, you might see no problem with Example Four but you might bristle at Example Two. If you, regardless of your own religious beliefs, believe children should have the freedom to discover themselves and what they believe on their own terms, you likely will find both Examples One and Three appropriate and Examples Two and Four inappropriate.

Regardless of your feelings about each, we must realize that Examples One and Three are instances of homeschooling being used pedagogically — that is, to teach children about the world and empower them to learn (and love learning). Whereas Examples Two and Four are instances of homeschooling also being used for another purpose aside from pedagogy. Examples Two and Four are instances of homeschooling being used to fulfill Lifton’s first criteria of thought reform: milieu control. In these instances, homeschooling is employed to control all (or as much as possible) of the human communication children experience — which is the very definition of milieu control. In other words, Examples Two and Four are examples of homeschooling being used totalistically — to control the child’s environment (specifically, the communication within the environment) so as to achieve a desired outcome, namely, thought reform. The homeschooling itself becomes the means by which the parent hopes to mold the children’s behaviors and thoughts in accordance with the parent’s behaviors and thoughts — rather than to encourage the children to be independent and to differentiate themselves from their parent. The parent is essentially aiming to create a mini-me out of each child.

The implication of this fact, that a single parent can use homeschooling as a totalistic tool, is that thought reform can be accomplished not only within a group — like a new religious movement with a close-knit, authoritarian system — but also within an individual family. Most examinations of totalism have involved the former — namely, group totalism. But it is important to realize that individual totalism is also a phenomenon. Individual families can become a world unto themselves, where one parent — usually the father, assuming the role of Family Patriarch — rules supreme. That parent becomes the dictator of the family unit and controls every aspect of their children’s lives. The parent sets himself or herself up as God of the Universe and uses homeschooling to make sure the children are molded to his or her will and properly fearful of the consequences of straying from that will.

Regardless of whether totalism develops in an individual family or a communal group, homeschooling thus can become an all-encompassing weapon by which thought reform is achieved. Of course, homeschooling is nonetheless only one tool among many used in the service of a totalistic environment. There are other tools such as physical violence or a religious text or betrothal and marriage. Basically, anything that can keep the members of a family or group in line with that family or group’s ultimate vision for reality can be a totalist tool. But homeschooling in particular stands out because it can absorb many other tools into its folds. When homeschooling becomes a “way of life” (as opposed to simply a pedagogical tool) often these other tools are simple extensions of that way of life. Certain discipline methods, religious texts, and relationship models can become yet one more attribute of the homeschooling itself.

When homeschooling is used in this way, the wielder of the tool can be either an individual (e.g., the Family Patriarch) or a group (e.g., a new religious movement). To be most effective, it can even be wielded by both. A new religious movement may demand that all families within it use homeschooling and each family can also use homeschooling to achieve the family’s desired thought reform — which will be the exact same thought reform desired by the movement. This doubling-down ensures that if a child interacts with people outside their family — say, with the children of other movement members — the socialization will only reinforce the sacred science of the movement. The socialization occurs between children being taught the same things, and thus new viewpoints are not experienced. Peer pressure between children can even help reinforce the movement’s demand for purity, and children themselves can use guilt and shame against each other to keep other children in check. This only enhances the thought reform, as children not only have to please and be subjugated to their parents and movement leaders but also each other.

To help us better understanding how homeschooling can be a totalist tool, let us explore an example connection between homeschooling and certain instances of human trafficking. If a child grows up in a new religious movement that has effectively mastered thought reform techniques like milieu control via homeschooling, that child will have no understanding of how the outside world differs from his or her experience of the totalist world. If that child also grows up memorizing nothing but the loaded language of that new religious movement, then he or she will not even know how to develop a different language by which to question the movement — and if the child ever did learn to question, he or she would feel immense guilt and shame from thinking “impure” thoughts. And if the pressure from the child’s parent(s) to stop thinking such thoughts was not enough, the child’s very own peers would step up to the task, thinking that they were saving their friend from being not “truly human.”

A nearly perfect system of control, then, would be in place. All it would take is for the leader of the movement to declare a new vision from the movement’s deity came to him or her — say, a vision of young girls being married at the age of 12 to much older men. This leader’s vision would likely be couched in religious justifications — that we are living in apocalyptic times and must fill the earth with as many followers of the movement’s deity as possible. And if young girls are not married early, they might be led astray by the world’s wickedness.

If you were a young girl in this movement, you would now be stuck. Having grown up only knowing people in the movement, you would have no way to know that being married off at the age of 12 is something unusual. You would not know it was something illegal. Even if you learned it was allegedly “a violation of international human rights,” you probably would have been taught that “human rights” are tricks of the Devil and nothing more than sophistic language invented by the United Nations, an organization your parents taught you is a devil-worshipping, New World Order institution. So you would obey your elders and submissively accept your role as a child bride to a balding, sweaty, gray-haired man with 10 other young wives. It is, after all, what God commanded, right?

You may think that the above situation would never occur — that it is an exaggeration. But this situation has occurred many times in the last two decades, right here in the United States (as well as in other countries). Time and time again, totalist individuals and groups have intentionally and methodically used homeschooling to create an environment where severe and disturbing violations of human rights are considered not only normal, but desperately necessary. Children have grown up not knowing that they were living in nothing less than a prison, both physically and mentally — and not knowing they had the right to escape and breathe the fresh air of freedom.


The totalist use of homeschooling is not what homeschooling’s originators intended. John Holt, the liberal anti-Marxist proponent of homeschooling in the 1970’s, envisioned the exact opposite of this scenario. Holt aimed to liberate children from social and political shackles, even nuclear family structures.[xxiv] He wanted children to have the freedom to learn what and as they pleased. To Holt, homeschooling should be “a natural, organic, central, fundamental human institution” that “isn’t a school at all” but rather is “the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools.”[xxv]

Even early religious advocates of homeschooling, such as Raymond Moore, a Seventh Day Adventist, aimed for an “ecumenical vision of homeschooling”[xxvi] that put children first. Moore believed that “homeschooling cultivated children’s natural curiosity and allowed them to learn at an individual pace, an argument that appealed to parents across religious lines.”[xxvii]

But due to later, “parental sovereignty” efforts by the conservative evangelical homeschooling lobby (led first and foremost by Michael Farris and his parental rights organization, the Home School Legal Defense Association), many states have no concrete criteria by which they can distinguish between pedagogical and totalistic homeschooling.[xxviii] For example, 48 states have no protections for at-risk homeschooled children.[xxix] These states have fallen into line with HSLDA’s goal of “total parental sovereignty,” choosing to believe “parents’ rights supersede any relationship a child has with society.”[xxx]

The consequence of this has now become evident: a road has been paved for new religious movements to take full advantage of homeschooling for their own totalistic ends, up to and including child abuse and trafficking.


[i] Shaney Swift, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “Homeschooling, The Tool My Parents Used Well,” August 26, 2013, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[ii] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “An Introduction to Homeschooling,” link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[iii] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “Homeschooling Numbers,” link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[iv] Helen Cordes, Salon, “Battling for the heart and soul of home-schoolers,” October 2, 2000, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[v] Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, “Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling,” March 26, 2008, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[vi] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “Reasons Parents Homeschool,” link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[vii] Ama Mazama, The Washington Post, “Racism in schools is pushing more black families to homeschool their children,” April 10, 2015, link, accessed on April 16, 2015.

[viii] Dick Anthony, “Tactical Ambiguity and Brainwashing Formulations: Science or Pseudo-Science?”, Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, ed. Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins, University of Toronto Press, 2001, p. 243-4.

[ix] Ibid, p. 247.

[x] Dick Anthony, Thomas Robbins, and Steven Barrie-Anthony, “Cult and Anticult Totalism: Reciprocal Escalation and Violence,” Millennial Violence: Past, Present and Future, ed. Jeffrey Kaplan, Routledge, 2002, p. 214.

[xi] Michel Foucault, “Complete and Austere Institutions,” The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, Pantheon Books, 1984, p. 214.

[xii] Margaret Thaler Singer, “Thought Reform Today,” Trauma and Self, ed. Charles B. Strozier and Michael Flynn, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1996, p. 70.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China, reprint edition, University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

[xv] Anthony, Robbins, and Barrie-Anthony, 2002, p. 214.

[xvi] Lifton, 1989.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] “We need to allow, encourage, and help young people create extended families of their own.” From John Holt, Psychology Today, “Free the Children; They Need Room to Grow,” October 1974.

[xxv] John Holt and Pat Farenga, “Common Objections to Homeschooling,” Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, revised edition, Perseus Books, 2003.

[xxvi] Mitchell Stevens, “Politics,” Kingdom of Children: Culture and Controversy in the Homeschooling Movement, Princeton University Press, 2009, p. 173.

[xxvii] Caitlin G. Townsend, Religion & Politics, “The Troubling Push to Deregulate Homeschooling,” February 17, 2015, link, accessed on April 19, 2015.

[xxviii] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “Current Homeschool Law,” link, accessed on April 19, 2015.

[xxix] Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “The Case for Oversight,” link, accessed on April 19, 2015.

[xxx] Townsend, 2015.


  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Lifton describes this phenomenon as compressing “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems” into “brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.” An individual who is not allowed to think outside the totalist environment’s sacred science, who is taught only to rely upon this loaded language, “is, so to speak, linguistically deprived; and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed.”[xxi]

    Also see “The Principles of Newspeak” by G.Orwell:

  • These are some very good points that I think every homeschool parent should read. (I am one of them.) But not all conservative Christian homeschoolers are strict fundamentals or patriarchal families who seek to do these things to their children. While I desire to point them to Christ and treasure His Word, I want them to grow up to be thinkers who can reason and express their own thoughts and feelings. I also want their faith to be their own and understand God’s great love for them, not just parrot what they have been taught.

    Having grown up in a non-Christian home, I dealt with a lot of anger, manipulation, and a parent who was a control freak. By the grace of God, He has helped me to not be like that. I have also given my children the freedom to choose public school or homeschool. It saddens me that there is such a controlling agenda behind certain movements you mentioned.

    I almost got sucked into the patriarchal model myself about five years ago because I felt I wasn’t doing it “right” and began reading the blogs/books. After sharing all of the thoughts and beliefs with my pastor husband, (including the part where he was told that he was suppose to be prophet, priest, and king of his household) he rightly rejected all of it, pointed out how many men would take pleasure in abusing that both in their homes and churches, and that he was not interested in it because it was unbiblical and based on an Old Testament mindset that wasn’t even scripturally accurate for those times.

    It was only a couple of years later that Doug Philips fell and I began to read about all the abuse that was going on in churches that held to either a patriarchal or fundamental model.( Ironically, neither one of those two groups can even agree with each other!)

    I am so grateful for a husband who rejected that model, and I know of very few men who would have resisted the temptation handed to them by their wives to become ruler over them and the children. After he expressed his strong views against this kind of theology, my confidence as a wife actually grew and I saw myself more as a whole person and less like a role-player. What I slowly began to realize that through reading these kinds of blogs/books, I was sub-consciously allowing myself to take the subservient role that I always took as a child-one without a voice who walked on eggshells. (One that my parent desired, not my husband.)

    We both also take exception that we are suppose to train our children to “take back America for God.” (Jesus never sent His disciples out to reform Rome, but to share His message of love and salvation.) Even though we vote our values and talk to our children about political issues, it is not our emphasis. Dominionism is not even biblical.

    All this to say that it is possible to raise children in a conservative Christian home who understand the grace and love of Christ and not suffocate under the weight of a law-based, mind-diminishing existence. It has been my goal to raise them in a loving home where they are valued, rather than controlled at every turn. Do I fail sometimes? All parents do-even public school ones. (There are many of them who are abusive, and don’ get called to the carpet for it either.) But we are also transparent about our weaknesses and believe in asking forgiveness when we fail.

    • “Having grown up in a non-Christian home, I dealt with a lot of anger, manipulation, and a parent who was a control freak.”
      An interesting statement that says nothing about Christianity or the lack of it. I grew up in a preacher’s home, a very Christian (IFB) one and and dealt with a lot of anger, manipulation and parents who were control freaks. I feel that much of their wish/need to control was supported by their version of Christianity, that Christ confirmed their neuroses, so to speak. Christianity, as I have studied it, is not the gentle, somewhat mushy safe place you seem to espouse. Do you teach your children about other children being bound to a stone and almost gutted because God spoke to daddy? Do you tell your kids that Christ died for their sins, that his dad allowed him to to be tortured and killed because we are evil-hearted? Christianity, conservative, evangelical Christianity is a blight, as I see it. You can dress it up as you please and use it however you please. Why not, everybody else does.
      I never used to question either Christianity or public schooling. They were givens; why on earth would you put a question mark near them? Later, as a parent, I listened to my own heart beating out question marks all over the place. I went from public to private to home and then finally to the most natural of learning milieus, unschooling. John Holt was one of the founders of this direction in advocating for children.
      Each step away from my childhood model of IFB evangelical Christianity was troubling and it hurt. But I had to listen to my own heart and the hearts of my wife and children. As I left those early models of schooling and ended up at unschooling, so too have I slowly left Christianity and now practice something we might as well call unChristianity. I find it very difficult to believe that it is possible to raise children in a conservative Christian home and not finally have to face the reality of American evangelical belief. It remains control-based and aimed at Totalism. You can invent your own version at home in isolation and call it the biblical way but what are your children really free to choose? Will you love and support their atheism?

      • brian,

        it seems like you are saying the only loving way to raise a child is by unschooling them, and by not practicing christianity. is this what you meant?

      • “Having grown up in a non-Christian home, I dealt with a lot of anger, manipulation, and a parent who was a control freak.”

        Brian, you responded by saying:

        “An interesting statement that says nothing about Christianity or the lack of it.”

        I wasn’t trying to make a statement about either one. Only that I understand what it’s like to grow up under that kind of environment. it is oppressive whether it is based on Christianity or not. I had no voice and the few times I tried to have one, it was squelched. In my early adult life, I had to unlearn the art of professional eggshell walking.

      • greetings shade, no, my intention was not to suggest that one must reject Christianity and public schooling as I have…. I think the fact of unbalanced families and the pressure/effect on children in the midst of it is widespread and not confined to belief or non-belief, not confined to one schooling or another. Would I recommend Christianity? Of course not. Would I encourage that parents look at unschooling? Absolutely. For me, the journey into unschooling with my kids was a huge emotional awakening, powerful attachment with my kids.
        There are all kinds of ways to be close to our kids, I’m sure but in my life experience neither Christianity or public schooling were positive, life-enhancing; rather, they hindered, harmed me.

      • that makes a lot of sense – thank you for explaining further.

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  • Hi Michelle, I understand what you are saying. I am sorry to know that your childhood had that effect on you and I strongly relate. I believe my ‘eggshell walking’ was my fear of the hell my parents promised, using religion to reinforce their damaged lives. I don’t know if I have unlearned the art of hiding out, of avoiding conflict. Often I think I stir up trouble in reaction. Best wishes to you.

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