Yesterday, I happened to come across this node on homeschooling while browsing through Everything. Later that same day, I came across a report about how a Christian fundamentalist caused an effective ban at his daughter's school of Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth.1 I was reminded of some articles (more below) I had read earlier about how home schooling was used by Christian fundamentalists as a cover for abusive treatment of children.

Some points to consider:

  • In a 2001 NCES study, 38.4% of respondents cited "religious reasons" as their motivation to homeschool their children;another 15.1% said "to develop character/morality".2 This correlates with what Inflatable Monk states in his WU on the same topic.
  • More than 80% of Americans claim to be Christian.3
  • The Bible strongly recommends beating children to instill obedience.4,5 One group explicitly suggests the use of quarter-inch plumbing line.8
  • Schools, among other institutions, are required by law to report suspected cases of child abuse.6
  • 17% of all reports of child abuse or neglect come from educational personnel.7
  • Home schooling associations are giving their members advice on how to obstruct child abuse investigations by social workers and police.9

No airtight syllogism links these assertions into a clear-cut conclusion such as "Christian parents beat their children to the point of injury and engage in homeschooling to evade notice by authorities." In fact, in studying many other homeschooling resources not listed under the references, I have gained the impression that most homeschooling efforts have as their primary goal to provide children with a better education than is available in public schools.

However, especially (9) reveals an attitude of defensiveness bordering on paranoia; policemen are pictured as anxious to "cuff and stuff" and methods are presented to obstruct them and social workers access to the extent permitted by the law. Again, no solid incriminating evidence can be expected from a public Web site, but – are these people trying to hide something?

A 2003 CBS documentary reported on a handful of cases of severe abuse of homeschooled children, including one fatality.10,11 It could be said to suffer from TV-typical sensationalism. Home schooling organizations were up in arms, as evidenced by countless Web sites dissecting the logic, wording and conclusions presented.

To my references below, I would have liked to add a link to one site in particular that originally made me aware of the problem: The page I read, some months ago, posited precisely that Christian fundamentalist homeschoolers were keeping their children away from public scrutiny by homeschooling them so that teachers would not become aware of injuries sustained from corporal punishment; and that furthermore, homeschooling groups and communities advocated a network of "Christian-friendly" doctors and other medical personnel who share the religious parents' views on corporal punishment and would therefore not report injuries clearly indicative of abuse. Alas, no amount of Googling found that site for me. Either I've been using the wrong keywords or the site has been shut down. Thus, I can only report, sans attribution or further substantiation, that someone else has reached exactly this conclusion.

The line between "healthy" corrective discipline and abuse is fuzzy, particularly in the United States. While many European countries have outlawed corporal punishment of children outright, US legislation is very permissive toward parents who apply physical force against their children. Also, standards for abuse vary from locality to locality and are often left to the discretion of the local judiciary. Thus, the severity of beatings or other punishments may or may not constitute abuse in the legal sense.

I don't doubt for a second that the vast majority of parents try to do what they believe is best for their children. Governments recognize this and generally allow parents to raise their children as they see fit. Problems arise when some parents, for religious or other reasons, choose to practice a child rearing regimen that is, demonstrably or by accepted standards, harmful to the child. I believe that neither the expectation that parents will act in good faith nor a blanket of "religious freedom" should provide a cover for child abuse, or activities that will harm a developing person for life.

This article attempts to show that homeschooling provides an opportunity to bring more control and force to bear on children than would be possible in an environment with more exposure to outside scrutiny. It is proven in a few cases and highly likely in more that some parents are –usually in the best of intentions– exploiting this opportunity to subject their children to injurious and clearly illegal levels of physical violence. While the practice may not be widespread, every effort must be made to prevent it. Insisting on minimal standards of homeschooling oversight would be a helpful first step.


  1. Federal Way Schools Restrict Gore Film
  2. Home Schooling in the United States - 1999
  3. Largest Religious Groups in the USA
  4. What the Bible says about spanking children
  5. Protestant Fundamentalism and Support of Corporal Punishment
  6. Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect
  7. NDAS: Child Abuse and Neglect
  8. Child abuse on the religious right
  9. CHASE SC Homeschool Association - How to Deal With False Accusations in a DSS Investigation
  10. A Dark Side to Home Schooling
  11. Home Schooling Nightmares