Turpin tragedy: Is homeschooling the problem?

Last week I wrote a blog post at top speed, for me, the fastest I’d ever gotten a post up. It was David and Louise Turpin: the picture-perfect homeschooling family.

If I’d had a warning ahead of time that this post would receive over twenty times as many views as my previous most popular post ever (which was my Michael Pearl post, in case you’re interested), I probably would have slowed down a bit when I was writing and given it more thought.

David and Louise Turpin, looking not picture perfect

Here’s the cryptic sentence that got some people upset:

“Don’t just defend homeschooling for the sake of homeschooling.”

And so, because it wasn’t as clear as it could have been what I was intending to communicate, the post was seen as anti-homeschooling. Later I added an addendum to explain I wasn’t in favor of more government intervention but was instead urging community vigilance and care.

So I’m going to tell you a story.

No, actually, I’m going to ask you to read a story.

It has to do with the very popular Christian school movement of the 1970s and 1980s, wildly popular, in fact, if you’re old enough to recall, because it was going to be “the answer” to the problem of young people from Christian homes going astray. Anyone remember that?

A couple of years ago on BJUGrace, a blog I administrated with some friends, some survivors of sexual abuse wrote articles to name their alleged abuser, a principal of one of those Christian schools. Here is the link to what might be the most compelling of those accounts, showing how the principal allegedly abused his students right under the noses of the school’s faculty and staff. You can take a minute to skim it; I’ll still be here.

*****

Now imagine that story became news back in the 1980s when Christian schools were popular, and I blogged about it saying something a little too cryptic like, “Don’t defend Christian schools just for the sake of having Christian schools.”

You might then hear people say, “The problem isn’t about Christian schools. Christian schools still shouldn’t be regulated by the government. The government needs to keep their noses out of Christian schools.”

I would actually agree with that.

But could you help those 1980s Christian-school-protectors see that they’re missing the point?

This is not about protecting the right for a Christian school to remain in unregulated operation.

Don’t just focus on the Christian schools, I would say to them.

Look at the children.

Do you see what’s happening to the children?

Do you see that Christian schools were allowing evil wolves, nay, often welcoming them, into the sheepfold?

Do you see how naïve those faculty and staff members were? How heartbreaking it was that they could have become educated about wolves in sheep’s clothing, but didn’t. (And I was also a clueless Christian school teacher in those days, so I definitely include myself in this group.)

So this is what I want to say regarding homeschooling. I loved my homeschooling years and would never claim that homeschooling itself is “the problem.”

But Christian homeschoolers, don’t be naïve. Don’t assume everyone “like you” is just doing the best they can to love their children well. Don’t be all about parental rights and ignore the rights of the children to be safe.

On the Homeschool Freedom website, Israel Wayne wrote,

We all want to see children protected and violence against children stopped. But we should make sure that we use methods that actually work, instead of creating needless government red-tape for parents who love their children and want to teach them at home.  

In my comment I responded to him:

[Methods] that actually work: Other homeschoolers not turning a blind eye away from homeschooling families in which something seems off, but actually asking the children some key questions (and often the mother as well). Teaching homeschool children, in their co-op and church environments, what abuse is and when and how to ask for help. Listening to and providing help for the children who speak about abuse, even when it’s from ‘such a good Christian family.” Listening to the young adults who have come out of cruel homeschooling families and being there for them instead of turning away from them. These are answers that require no government intervention and show that we do indeed care for our own.  

If we insist that the cruelty that sometimes occurs in homeschooling families is ‘not my problem,” then the people outside of homeschooling—and often outside of Christianity—will be the ones who will embrace the ones escaping the abuse. We want them instead to see the love of Jesus through us.  

This last statement is very near my heart, since I hear so many stories of abuse from the abuser survivors themselves, on a very personal level. Yes, stories of abuse come from the formerly wildly popular this-will-solve-our-problem Christian school movement (and that story I linked to was only one of several I know). Yes, stories of abuse come from public schools and from families that have nothing to do with homeschooling. Yes.

But my plea in that post was to homeschoolers. That’s my background. And I grieve for all the former ostensibly-Christian homeschool students who have walked away, not just from the way of life their parents claimed to be pursuing, but from Christianity.

From Jesus Christ Himself.

I’ve blogged in a number of posts about the problems that have been happening in the homeschool world. Here are perhaps the most significant:

For shame, beautiful Botkins

“Biblical” patriarchy: Here’s how you replaced God

To those in “Biblical” patriarchy: return to God

 “Children obey your parents”? Part One

“(Adult) children obey your parents”? Part Two, for adults raised in Patriarchy

 An authority covering umbrella of protection parable, to celebrate the Reformation

Here’s what I’ve been told: Ninety percent of the former Christian homeschooling young people who walk away from their home environments are leaving God behind too. [Edited to add: I mean “walk away” in the sense that they’re severing ties.]

Do you think that’s just because of “rebellion” from their picture-perfect homes?

No, something is wrong.

Does it break your heart? Does it make you weep in the night? Does it make you want to reach out your arms to them? Does it make you cry out to Jesus to rescue them and be their good Shepherd?

When Christian homeschoolers stand tall against their fear of the government and instead, in the name of Jesus Christ choose to help and protect the vulnerable, needy, and hurting around them . . . when they choose to become educated about abuse and abusers, about tactics and red flags . . . when they choose to focus on loving each other and seeing and knowing Jesus Christ rather than trying to present a picture perfect front . . . I’m confident we will see far fewer leave Christianity behind and would even see some of those ninety percent return.

And for those Christian homeschoolers of my generation who were sure this would be “the answer” to the problem of young people from Christian homes going astray . . . well, I want to point out that really Christianity is about receiving the Living Water from the Wellspring of Life and then pouring that Living Water out to others, including our children and others around us.

Always, always pointing them to Jesus, the Shepherd of their souls.

That’s what I wanted to say.

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25 Comments on "Turpin tragedy: Is homeschooling the problem?"

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listening ear
Guest
listening ear

I agree….observe and protect the children…..also I think the mother was held captive by an malignant abusive man and did not have courage to protect her children.. both guilty….
.so domestic violence is part of this sad story

momzilla76
Guest

I am wondering now if the family ever claimed to actually be homeschoolers except the one instance when they registered as a private school in California? From what I have seen it is not like they were chumming around in home education circles and the H.S. community turned a blind eye towards whatever signs existed.
This does not negate anything you have written but I think the media is making this a homeschool story when it never really was.

elligirl49
Guest
elligirl49

Plenty of homeschooling families don’t interact in home education circles, but instead fly solo.

momzilla76
Guest

We are one such family.
I was just pointing out that I think the media is making this a homeschooling thing as a witch hunt instead of it being a ploy by the family in one instance to pretend to be something they never were. I do agree with Mrs. Davis that the homeschool community needs to be aware and watchful for signs of abuse.
I just don’t think the Turpin’s case is one of abuse hiding in a homeschool family. It is just unnoticed abuse in people trying to stay as far off society’s radar as possible.

NGl
Guest
NGl

Homeschooling is not a common option here where I come from, it’s usually only a last resort (sickness, severe bullying or somilar) and there is a ceryain curriculum that has to be taught – so not many parents would be academically able to handle the material.
Christian private schools have however gained momentum in the last few decades, and I used to be an enthusiastic supporter of the idea – it was seen as an answer to bullying, ‘hen-pecking’ and other social phenomena often seen in public schools. But.. there are some very fanatical people running around in those circles and I am concerned about their ideology.
Also, not sure that small schools are the answer to bullying and high school drama, those can exist in small close knit community too (which often makes the bullying and harassment worse..)
Thankfully, no children, so I don’t have to be concerned about making the right choices about their schooling.. But I would tend towards public education, with deep parental involvement and discussions about any material that contradicts the Christian truths and values.

NGl
Guest
NGl

… As isolation and segregation from the main society can lead to even more problems and abuses, than staying in touch with the surrounding world and ilearning to interact with it.
I used to envy some of the Americans I came to meet when I was in missions – they had had the perfect homeschooling experience: none of the high school nonsense, just meaningful learning. How I envied that! How blessed they seemed! so together and balanced..
Later, I found out that their background in fact was what has recently been in the headlines as ‘patriarchy’ and ‘quiverfull’… I would not trade my own life (albeit imperfect) to that insulation and spiritually limited perspective.

Lea
Guest
Lea

I attended a Christian school in the 80s (ish) before public school. I had problems with bullying at the Christian school I NEVER had at public school. FWIW.

I think people think if they just control this or that aspect of their kids lives there will be no problems. That’s not how life works. Sometimes you create problems that are worse than you ever would have faced otherwise.

Jo Phillips
Guest
Jo Phillips

Oops! I commented plenty on your blog too. Thing is, it would have generated traffic from people who perhaps aren’t your usual audience.

For example, I’m not a Christian (sorry). I’m English and I think our culture re child protection is different. I do believe in the state. Ideologically we are as far apart as it is possible to be.

However, I liked what you wrote and here too because I was curious about homeschooling and through research I saw some vids (Homeschool Voices) and posts from other homeschoolers and I was really shocked at where their priorities appeared to be.

What you’ve suggested is really all I am personally asking. Awareness of triggers, understanding how children / young adults might exhibit signs of torture and abuse, vigilance and understanding the duty to report and be accountable for collective duty of care.

I don’t agree with you that this issue would have been resolved just by community involvement but yes, the lack of it was a significant contributory factor (we were concerned but no, we didn’t contact anybody etc etc). However, a village is what it takes. We just have different villages

So, great post, great discussion. Well said.

Tammy Noel Smith
Guest
Tammy Noel Smith

This view of it ‘taking a village to raise a child’ shows exactly what audience Ms.Davis is coming from.This is socialism brought on by none other than Hillary Clinton and Obama.Ms.Davis also twisted what Israel Wayne said.I got in touch with him and he said he can’t even comment here.She has an agenda and sad to say,she is using the name of Jesus,to divide and confuse and slander those she swears she is defending.Ms. Davis,if she knows the Bible and the Sovereignty of God,knows that a relationship with Christ Jesus is not based on homeschooled children or public school children…….It is the power of God alone to draw people to Him, or not.Having thoroughly studied Hitler’s Germany,this is what is becoming of our own society.The Jewish police were put there by Hitler.They spied on their own people.They acted as judges and jury.This is what Ms.Davis wants for American Christian homeschool families.I see nothing of the love of Christ here,only a woman who wants to play God.

Tammy Noel Smith
Guest
Tammy Noel Smith

Ms. Davis,You stated here on your post,”But my plea in that post was to homeschoolers. That’s my background. And I grieve for all the former ostensibly-Christian homeschool students who have walked away, not just from the way of life their parents claimed to be pursuing, but from Christianity.From Jesus Christ Himself.

You are not concerned about those people who are “falling away from Jesus Christ”.They were never in Christ to begin with.Why the heartstrings for the homeschooled unsaved and not everyone,as Christ Jesus is? You have an agenda and it is an obvious one to anyone who has studied Hitler’s Germany.You come under the guise that you “care” but you care only for a group that you want to see more of the arm of government. You are about you,Ms. Davis,not the love of God,certainly not the love of family,which God established first before he ever established the Church.It is not your responsibility to have an eye on homeschool families,but the family God gave you.You say you worry and care and are concerned about children within homeschool families,but please take careful consideration of THIS…..Those families that you start asking questions to,are they going to start feeling paranoid? Are they going to start guarding themselves at church and around family because a child is quiet? Or because they dress differently? How about the children who are very well behaved,are you going to start assuming they are “beaten into submission”? You see where your going with this? I call this abuse.I have children who hate all these questions about things no other child were asked if they were not homeschooled.My children are grilled in the lines at stores once people know they are homeschooled.They are asked at church if they ever fight with their siblings.I consider THIS to be abusive.These things are no one else’s business,even yours.In European countries,they are getting ready to pass laws for children to be checked by doctors to see if parents are sexually abusing them.This in and of itself,will be the most horrendous abuse.How do you feel when you have a pap smear? Think of a small girl having this done…THAT’S abuse,and all in the name of “protecting the children”.You really need to stop thinking like a socialist…unless that’s what you are and you are flying under the “I am a Christian” flag.

elligirl49
Guest
elligirl49

This comment is for Tammy. For some reason right now, I am unable to reply directly to her comments.

Tammy. . . Like I said on the last blog that you commented on: “. . .name-calling those who exemplify Christ-like compassion and speak out against the evil these parents did is hurting the name of God and also homeschooling.” Just because you don’t agree with Rebecca (or Ms. Davis as you call her, but really she is cool with being called Rebecca) doesn’t mean that she is a socialist or like Hitler. Based on how you keep throwing these words around, it seems like you don’t understand what socialism is or much about Hitler, despite supposedly having studied a lot about him.

You said: “Why the heartstrings for the homeschooled unsaved and not everyone,as Christ Jesus is?” Actually, she does have the heartstrings for more than just the “homeschooled unsaved” which is abundantly clear if have have read more of her blog than just the posts on the Turpin family. Which leads me to say:

Tammy, for someone who is claims to be a Christian, your comments on this blog are anything but Christlike. You have said some incredibly rude and unkind things about a woman you don’t even know. It would be one thing to disagree with her in an objective and non-name calling way but to throw out accusations that she only cares about herself, that she is using the name of Jesus to divide and slander, and to compare her to Hitler, is completely inappropriate. Your accusations against her couldn’t be further from the truth.

I grew up in a homeschooling family, Tammy, and was severely abused over and over again in every way imaginable. It was because of people like you, people who “minded their own business” and didn’t get involved in the lives of families around them, because they believed that some how the church caring about the lives of families was socialism (except that that word wasn’t used as an insult against those with differing viewpoints when I was a child, like it is today) or interfering in an institution that was created before the church, that my abuser was allowed to continue until I was an adult. I wish my church had gotten involved in my family and been nosy. If the parents don’t have anything to hide there should be no reason for them to fear or object to the church or fellow homeschooling families caring about what is going on behind closed doors.

What Rebecca wrote in this blog and the other one you commented on, is exactly what needed to be said and was the God-honoring truth. It is because of people like her, people willing to be used by God in the lives of the broken and abused, that people like me can see that God isn’t the dark twisted person that he was presented to us as in the abusive “Christian” environments we grew up in. I am not sure if you realize it or not Tammy, but the comments you make are part of the problem and only serve to help turn the broken away from the amazing God who loves them and wants to heal them.

Bunkababy
Guest
Bunkababy

Tammy your comment to Rebecca is very ignorant of “socialist” countries. In fact it is just the same old American rhetoric that has been circulating causing great fear among its people for years. And that thinking has been brought about to actually enslave you and keep you captive to an American idealism that is quite wrong in terms of Christianity and the freedom Christianity brings. Sadly this misinformation of what socialistic governments are like to live under has been so skewed by rumours, uneducated ignorant people who have never seen or lived under it spreading false information you can’t even begin to grasp what it is really like. Your fear is not based in reality but rather a false narrative made to keep you a pawn to your own governments flawed system. Your comments alone are proof you have not actually studied real data but just believed what others have told you. How sad.

Karen Huffman
Guest
Karen Huffman

My two adult children now 28 and 24 graduated from public school; my 6 year old is being home schooled. My older children made very good grades and graduated but not without issues. My eldest showed signs of bi polar disorder in her teens that became very evident after graduation. My son was molested my a young female teacher when he was 17. Drug abuse and sexual abuse. He wasn’t the only boy, one was only 15.
The teacher served prison time. but my son is a full blown addict today. I chose to home school my little one for several reasons. One being the bonding experience , the other was the fact that I wasn’t turning my last child out to strangers 8 hours a day. Education begins in the home and I missed so much of what was happening in my older children’s lives because I assumed all was well since their grades were good ! No complaints from teachers until of course my son was 17 and after my daughter graduated. The problems were there all along!!!!! I was a young working mother who never dreamed of those issues.
At age 50 I see what I missed back then. I trusted blindly and society is even more screwed up today; so I home school. My baby will not slip through the cracks. If the state would want to come in and check out my home and my child as part of the homeschooling prerequisites I would be 100 % fine with it. I know not all home schooled children receive the education they should have.
Child abuse happens all the time be it in the home , church, school or day care. Children need to be more of a priority in this country. Top priority, but sadly they are not. As they say..” you need a license to drive a car but any body can have chuldren, even breed like rabbits!!!

Chris Corbett
Guest
Chris Corbett

Rebecca, you say that “Ninety percent of the former Christian homeschooling young people who walk away from their home environments are leaving God behind too.”

Are you saying that there is a 90 percent defection rate of all Christian homeschool kids when they leave the home? Or are you saying that it is 90 percent defections for those who “walk away from their home environments” and that the term “walk away from their home environments” means something different than any homeschooled child in adulthood?

And whatever the definition, what is your source for that statistic? I’ve read contrary evidence–studies admittedly from homeschool proponents, but the methodology looked sound, and the stats were closer to the reverse of what you state.

I’m also a 27-year homeschool dad, and a rejector of patriarchial nonsense. My own observations are that there are not close to 90 percent of homeschool kids walking away from the faith in adulthood. Yeah, I’ve seen good, bad, and ugly of homeschooling. Lots of over-romanticizing and utopianism. Been guilty of a little of that myself. But 90 percent defection rates?? Wow, Haven’t seen that, not even close, and I’ve been at this for almost three decades.

So, please let me know your source. That’s a bold claim, and a potentially damaging one if wrong. Thanks.

Nicole
Guest
Nicole

This made me cry! Thank you for this article! We homeschool and I could not agree with you more!