I am a homeschool graduate. I homeschooled for most of my elementary career, and for the entirety of my middle and high school career. I have seen homeschooling at its finest, with parents raising accepting and intelligent children who excel in life. I have friends among this group. I know that some parents use homeschooling as yet another method of controlling their children. I fall into this latter category. And I know, and know of, others who do, too.
I've spent years being the homeschool advocate and defendant. Since it's been 6 years since I graduated, I've gained more perspective, and decided that it is time for me be honest, and speak up about the negative side of homeschooling.
It's not uncommon in the homeschool community for parents to portray the world as a bad and scary place, implicitly implying that homeschooling was the best option for raising healthy children. It is a scary world. And public (or even private, I suppose) schools sound like a microcosm of the world. Rapist teachers, bully kids, gun violence, kids dealing and trying out drugs, kids having premarital sex, kids having kids, sex ed classes that teaches about condoms and the Pill...the list goes on. My father, who is a bit of a scholar of homeschooling, has pointed out many (if not all) of these things, himself.
On the other hand, when home is not safe, public school offers a haven. There are teachers who can sense that something is wrong, just by virtue of spending hours every week with you. There are school counselors to confide in. Being around other children helps you realize that there is a wide definition of "normal." And knowing these children, and sometimes their families, help you to realize that maybe, just maybe, your family isn't normal. That what is going on in your family isn't healthy or safe.
How I wish I had that support from other adults! I would have needed prolonged, regular contact with other adults before I would have learned to trust them enough to talk about what really goes on at home. Relatives often saw only the good side of my father because we didn't see them too oftne.
I always felt as if something was wrong at home with the eggshells and dad's rages, but because I didn't have much opportunity for comparison, I thought all fathers were like mine. Rageful and unstable. It took until college for me to find out otherwise. Looking back, I often wish I hadn't homeschooled through high school just because then I would have had more support elsewhere when I felt powerless at home.
I know you can learn about the wide definition of "normal" in homeschooling circles, it's true. However, homeschooling, at least in my area, was predominately white, conservative, and Christian. The variety came from the fact that some of us were Catholics. (I'm being a tiny bit facetious here. Just a tiny bit. There were other variety because some kids were the genius type. And because some families had kids with disabilities.)
There were enough families who saw homeschooling as an additional means of control that it made my father's control appear to be "normal" in comparison. Many of these families who, seeing homeschooling as a way of control, embraced a variety of evangelical sects that are known to support abuse. Vision Forum. Advanced Training Institute. Independent Fundamental Baptists. (You may recognize a familiar name in the blogs about the IFB--Jack Schaap. He's been in the news lately for raping a girl.) There are also homeschoolers who subscribe to the "beat the sin out of 'em" mindset of Michael Pearl, and kill their own children this way.
My mom sometimes pointed to one or two other families whose fathers were even worse than mine. One father forbade his wife to go grocery shopping ever again because she ran out of milk in the middle of the week for their family of...was it 8, 9 kids? I thanked my lucky stars that dad wasn't nearly that bad. It would have ruined our "good" public face if he did something like that. I also thank God that dad never joined up with these fundamentalist groups. They were too Protestant for him.
He did join up with HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) after I moved out. It's an organization that theoretically started out with a good cause--protecting the privilege of homeschooling--but has since devolved (if you think they were good in the first place) into scaremongering. Their main business comes from convincing homeschooling families that they need to be afraid of Child Protective Services, and in order to protect themselves, they should become a member of HSLDA. This links right back to the aforementioned issue about portraying the world as a bad and scary place--especially when you consider that they mix causes, assuming that every homeschooler is conservative.
For example, they're currently railing against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (totally misrepresenting the power of the treaty.) Previously they were railing against a similar convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that children have the right not to be abused. There are other examples of how HSLDA's leadership is co-opting the homeschool movement to further their own political desires, but that's not the point of my discussion. The point is that HSLDA doesn't care about child welfare, and that only makes things worse for a) the homeschoolers because it makes people suspicious that they might be hiding abuse, and b) for any abused homeschooled children because of how HSLDA fights child welfare laws and investigations.
However, not all homeschooling families are like that. Just as there is a proportion of public/private school kids who are abused by their parents, there is a proportion of homeschoolers who are abused. The danger lies in the fact that there is less adult involvement and monitoring as there is in public/private schools. It's easier for abuse to go hidden for longer.
Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse--please, keep your eyes open and your ears ready should a kid need help, homeschooling or not. Call Child Protective Services in your state, or the National Child Abuse Hotline if you suspect abuse.