It is my dime-store opinion that homeschooling is little more than legalized child abuse. Physical abuse and brainwashing are simply opposite sides of the same coin. I'm pretty confident that no one who thinks it is appropriate to control every piece of information that reaches their child should have children in the first place. Your anecdotal story about how you were homeschooled and loved it does not interest me. Good for you. For every one of you there are a dozen socially retarded zombies wandering the Earth with wholly fictional versions of reality in their heads – courtesy of their tinfoil-hatted mom and her Teach the Controversy textbooks.

This video has been making the rounds, taken from an ABC special about a group of homeschooled fundies (homeschooler logic: if we put all of the asocial kids in a room with one another once a month, it counts as social interaction – no different than school, really!) being taken on a tour of a natural history museum. Rather than try to describe it, just watch as much as you can before you vomit.

Let us ignore all of the obvious points of criticism for the moment. If you have ever taught a class in your life – from preschool to med school – the pedagogy on display here has to horrify you. It certainly made me want to projectile vomit. These people seem to have taken the Learning = Rote Memorization formula to an extreme that would shame the worst public grammar school teacher. The concept of "teaching" on display here consists of the guide speaking and then stopping for the children to fill in the missing word. In unison, mind you.

Here we see the three pillars of religious fundamentalism: all-encompassing ignorance, fear, and unquestioning obedience. Nothing says "fundie" quite like a pasty, empty-eyed gaggle of Children of the Corn extras listlessly reciting dogma memorized out of fear of punishment. It's hard to do anything except feel bad for them and baselessly hope that one or two of them will find a way to think for him- or herself. It's a longshot.

On one hand, it's tempting to say Who Cares to the homeschooling issue. After all, homeschooled kids are exceptionally unlikely to bother you or I. The few that enter the economy at any level above Sandwich Artist or Wal-Mart night manager will get degrees at Regent or Patrick Henry before returning to Lizard Lick, NC to embark on a long career of shitting out kids. But the kids didn't volunteer for this treatment. Public and private schools may do a pretty outstanding job of messing up kids, but at least one has a fighting chance of emerging from that environment with cognitive and social skills.


  • It frightens me that a museum if forced to tolerate this kind of ridiculous bullsh*t. I defy anyone to explain how this sort of fundamentalist ideology has done any good in the world.

  • Thanks for posting this, Ed. I had heard about the video but hadn’t seen it yet. I had pretty much the same reaction as you, although nothing here really surprised me. I had a few observations:

    One of the remarkable ironies of this is that these idiots’ ability to shape these children’s beliefs is itself a product of evolution. Many evolutionary biologists have pointed to the selective benefits that accrue to children believing what their parents tell them. It makes complete sense from a survival point of view. One of the most damning indictments of religion derives from one of the most basic social scientific facts: that the main predictor of children’s religious beliefs is their parents’ religious beliefs. How can the creationists (or fundamentalist Hindus, Muslims, Jews, etc.) possibly explain this? If our eternal salvation depends on our acceptance of a religious tenet, how could it possibly be that this is so dependent upon our social environment rather than personal characteristics, unless we accept that the evolutionary view that it is evolutionarily beneficial to internalize our parents’ teachings?

    We really MUST make logic a central element of our educational curriculum. The fact is, we will never, ever be able to sit down with these people and convince them how ludicrous it is for them to accuse evolutionists of circular reasoning, or for that matter convince them that most religions are themselves entirely based on circular logic. Similarly, without some basic understanding of scientific reasoning, these people will never understand the difference between their faith in biblical texts and the “faith” that they accuse scientists of having.

    Perhaps the most depressing part of the whole video for me was the part where the guide told the children that “fossils are boring” because they are the remains of dead things. I’ve always felt that the most pathetic aspect of the creationist story, setting aside its historical inaccuracy, is that it is just so goddamn banal when placed against the grandeur of natural history. In an age when each day brings us new discoveries about the history and scope of our universe (we are now at the stage where we can detect water on planets in other solar systems) and the history of life on earth, these children are being told not to bother engaging with these exciting new developments, and instead being told to accept a story that is just so tawdry and boring compared to the truth.

    Just a side note, I’m not sure what is the relevance of the children’s “pastiness,” as surveys show that rejection of evolution is just as if not more prevalent in African-American and Latino communities as among whites.

  • The scary part is that after they go to Regent or Patrick Henry a lot of them are getting civil service jobs in the government. There they can do a lot to screw up government services because it doesn't fit their narrow-minded fundie philosophy. What scares me is that we will not be able to find and get rid of all of them and they will spend their whole career screwing with the operation of the government. As time goes by they will work their way up to positions where decisions are made.

  • I would say that the bigger issue that this relates to is "How much right do parents have to fuck up their kids?" And the answer is, "Quite a lot, actually." Of course, there are limits – bodily harm, many things sex-related – to the ways in which parents can diverge from the societal average of child-rearing methodology, but when it comes to royally fucking kids up in the head, parents get quite a bit of leeway.

    Of course, the alternative, which would be more governmental regulation of parenting, which doesn't seem like the answer. I think that there are not very many people at any point on the political spectrum who would say, "I think the government should have more power to tell me what facts I can and cannot tell my children are true."

    So you know, it's a bummer. But what are you gonna do?

  • "Homeschooling is an overwhelmingly pasty phenomenon."

    Yes, but fundamentalist ideology is not, and isn't that really the root problem here? None of us would be horrified by this video if the kids were being taught about string theory by their astrophysicist parents; it's what they're being taught and how they're being taught that is the problem. It's not homeschooling per se, although I'm sure that raises issues with kids' social skills and all. Having come from an evangelical community, I can tell you kids weren't exactly taught to think outside the box there, despite the fact that they weren't homeschooled. Kids' immediate social context, particularly their parents' beliefs, will always be a predominant factor in a child's education, regardless of what they learn in school.

  • As a biologist, let me assure everyone (in case anyone had doubts) that evolution = fact. It is undeniable that species change over time. Saying that evolution does not exist is like saying that people have tentacles: a patent distruth. Hopefully that is not be surprising to anyone who reads this.

    Once you recognize evolution as fact, then the question becomes "What is the mechanism of evolution?" Currently, the most widely accepted model is Darwin's theory of natural selection, though other models such as Lamarckian theory have been in the vogue at various times. There are some deficiencies in Darwin's model of "Survival of the Fittest" because you might ask, how do you recognize the Fittest? Someone answers, well, the Fittest is the one who Survives. And there you are, in all your highly educated glory, left with a cruel and unflinching tautology.

    If you're interested, you can read all about models for mechanisms of evolution through the majesty of Wikipedia. The mechanism of evolution is still a researched topic, and likely will be for some time. Unfortunately, the media and the public have confused the debate over the mechanism with a debate over whether evolution exists.

  • "Evolution can not be observed or scientifically verified. Evolution and creation are both just what they called world views. Both are philosophies, both are a leap of faith." You know, kind of like religion! How is religion not a fantasy?!? How does an interpretation prove to be fact?

    What would these people say if you asked them maybe God conducted evolution and it is part of God's "plan", God is just screwing around with people in the Bible, or maybe God has changed his mind about things since
    God or whoever wrote the Bible? I see the same thing wrong with “creationists” that I do with fundamentalist Islamic groups: they are using a document thousands of years old to apply to today’s standards and justify their beliefs.

    I thought the public school I attended sucked, but man. I feel better about myself and sorry for these kids.

  • Carl Sagan's last (I think) book, THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD, should be–OK, well, I don't want to overuse the phrase 'required-reading'–*strongly encouraged* reading for people who strive to understand the appeal of the irrational. It's not just that it's "easy"–though it is–it's that it's *fun*. It's *cool*. UFOs and Bigfoot and Healing Crystals and Creationism are just more *fun* than dull ol' science and math and logic. Think about it–imagine if you could walk into a museum and 'see' the creatures who died during the Flood–how awesome would that be? Which is more fun–a clever Creator who magically spins the world out of His imagination, or a bunch of particles banging together until you get primordial soup and amino acids? Science doesn't give you Santa Claus–it tells you that there *is* no Santa Claus; it's as simple as that.

    And of course it's terribly easy to indoctrinate children because the cool/easy explanation–the one that's all 'imagination' and no 'facts'–is going to naturally appeal to their undisciplined, excitable young minds. Plus they're being given a nifty Bad Guy to team up against (Big Atheism), so that's always fun. What's sad is that their imagination isn't, in the end, being encouraged, but stifled–they're not even being encouraged to explore/develop their faith, but to pigeon-hole it into a rigid, miserable conformity designed to produce the most joyless form of religious experience. Ah well, at least we don't elect these people to high office. Oh, wait…

  • Shit. I used to go to that museum all the time as a kid. I bet these are the same people that protested Body Worlds because they said it "wasn't respecful to the dignity of the human body." Those idiots just tainted another golden childhood memory.

  • I have to tell you that while I agree this is a scary video – I think the comments were just as scary.

    You all seemed to think that the homeschooling is the abuse – the mental abuse shown here – stems from the indoctrination . . . that can take place whether the parents have the child(ren) in private school, public school, or homeschool.

    I homeschool only one of my kids – for very specific reasons, the rest go to public school. I teach all my kids science, social studies, and history at home with supplemental lessons. As a resident of the Bible Belt, they either learn EXACTLY what is tested by standardized testing, a faux lesson with creationist subtext, or nothing. If I want my children to have a firm grasp on astrology, evolution, or anything that directly challeges the biblical interpretation of the universe . . . I have to provide it, or a way for them to get it themselves! Quite honestly my 11 year old (a declared atheist who has been asked not to return to my grandmother's church) could debate these men down to the point of tears.

  • On the plus side, because of the very first installment of Ed vs. Logical Fallacies, I know the proper term for the misguided reasoning that "well, evolution requires belief, and creationism requires belief, therefore they are equally valid."

    Thanks Ed!

  • Grace – very interesting post. I largely agree with you, and that is the point I was trying to make above. I haven't seen statistics, but I'd be willing to hypothesize that homeschooled children's beliefs don't differ so much from their peers once you control for their parents' ideology.

    J. Dryden – fascinating post. I think I would qualify Mr. Sagan's argument by saying that science can be just as "fun" as religion, but only after you go through the arduous process of learning the fundamentals. To me, black holes are exponentially more interesting than the thought of turning water into wine. For that matter, I find the prospect that we owe our existence to random processes occurring on a random planet in a random solar system in a random galaxy (in a random universe?) far more awe-inspiring than the creationist story.

  • Dealing with as many insane parents as I do, I can sort of see the reasoning behind "homeschooling = a terrible idea," but I also have met a lot of shitty, shitty teachers. I'd agree with those above who suggest that indoctrination isn't a homeschooled-kids-only issue (if only it were!); my main beef with homeschooling has always been the social development problems. AND THAT I NEED THOSE KIDS IN SCHOOL SO I CAN GET PAID, SON!

    Uh I mean. Oops.

  • Nate, I agree that it is moronic to protest the Bodies and Body Worlds exhibits because God wouldn't want us to learn about our insides or something, but it's true that there are some, uh, questionable practices at work in the creation of those exhibits.

  • I have to agree with Brendan and others who said that it is the ideology that seems to be the concern here. If we really are concerned about educating students well, then I think home-schooling should continue to be an option. Home-schooled kids tend to score higher than their public school peers on standardized tests and, in general, have the marks/scores to get into good colleges. It is a great choice for students who are bored with conventional schooling or who have special needs that over-burdened schools can’t meet.

    However, regulation is important. Pennsylvania (where I was educated, yes, by my mom, from K-12) has the strictest home-schooling laws in the country, requiring that the school districts review samples of students’ work each year, standardized tests and an evaluation of each pupil by a certified teacher. Regulations such as these help to ensure that students are being taught what they need to learn. They might not prevent against “indoctrination,” but again, parents influence their kids no matter where they go to school and many private schools teach Creationism, conservatism, etc. as well.

    While the movement was originally started by hippies who didn’t want their kids tainted by the establishment, it’s true that a large percentage of home-schooling families do so for religious reasons. I don’t want to delve too much into anecdote here, but in my experience (and I was educated in one of the most conservative counties in PA), most families are not grooming their children to be extremists or for world domination (as some seem to be worried about). Of the 100+ home-schooled students I know, only 2 have gone to Patrick Henry. The rest go to more nominally Christian colleges and a large percentage of my graduating class (I would say close to half) went on to liberal arts or state schools to become doctors, teachers, writers and yes, even political scientists.

  • Peggy – I completely agree and am fully aware of the social development concerns with any homeschooling issue . . . my (extended) family and I work together to make sure that all of the kids have activities, outside of school, with other children their age. Unfortunately, while you were likely joking about the "getting paid" part, some of the teachers and administrators at her school were not!

    Megan – yes, regulation can be a crucial aspect to ensuring a home-schooled child receives a TRUE education. Too often, homeschooling is used as an "easy out" for a lazy parent unwilling to wake up in time to ensure the child gets to school, or as a mechanism to more easily hide signs of abuse. Essentially, the rules in Florida require either a test or the presentation of a work portfolio. My daughter takes the test, as she takes online classes (through the state's more thorough online school district, and extra that I have to pay for) and interactive classes with her many instructors – family members and close friends of the family all participate depending on their expertise and/or interest. (One relative checks her math, and provides supplemental history lessons as he used to teach in those subjects; another teaches her botany as a supplement to her science lessons, etc.)
    This was something we did as a "family", but also because I took her out of a traditional setting to keep her from indoctrination, including any that I might pass on . . . I have no interest in controlling everything she says or does and in that regard I KNOW I'm in the minority where homeschooling parents are concerned, I fully agree with ED that the person desiring that kind of control over someone should be watched closely and preferably not be allowed to procreate.

    BRANDON AND J – both of you seem fairly well-read. Have you ever checked out a book called "The Edison Gene" by Thom Harmann? It fleshes out a pretty sound theory on the current evolution (psychological, philosophical, etc.) of our own species – and how our current educational systems are playing a part … ALSO – with regard to which is more fun "religion or science?"
    I enjoyed Bible Stories while a child, but I also enjoyed Aesop's fables . . . neither compared to hanging out in the backyard with my dad doing "Test MacGyver's science" experiments.

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