The Homeschooling Sexual Harassment Scandal you should know about

Have you heard of the Bill Gothard scandal? If you answer “No” to that question, don’t feel bad. I had never heard of him either, until recently. I’m just an ordinary SAHM, sending my kids to public school and taking them to church on Sunday.

But how about this… Have you heard of the Duggar familyfrom TLC’s popular show “19 Kids and Counting”? You have? Now we’re getting somewhere! Gothard is/was good friends with the Duggars.

What we’re really talking about is a group of fundamentalist Christians who have a huge impact in the American homeschooling movement today. The name of their organization is the Advanced Training Institute, or ATI, for short. Part of their message is that good Christians don’t send their children to public schools.

Right now the ATI is going through a major scandal. Bill Gothard, the former leader, has been accused by over 34 women of sexual harassment of minors. The allegations include fetishes, grooming, and in one case, groping. These stories are being shared on a website called Recovering Grace. Here are some examples:

The trouble is, most public school families like mine haven’t heard about any of this. Why should we? Hmmm… Maybe because the Duggar girls are on a book tour right now, promoting their lifestyle. We know all about the Duggars; we just don’t know the whole story.

Let’s start with something really horrible: Blanket Training.

Never heard of blanket training? Me neither! Apparently, it’s when you put a young infant on a blanket and then hit the baby every time she puts her hand off the blanket. You train the baby through physical discipline to stay on the blanket. (More about blanket training.)

If smacking babies isn’t enough, here’s something else to make your blood boil: Stay-at-home-daughters.

That’s when parents give their daughter such a horrible education (or no education), that she’s unprepared to get a GED, go to college, land a paying job, or even move out of the house. She’s stuck at home forever, doing housework and taking care of her siblings, until her father allows her to enter “courtship” with a man he selects. (More about stay-at-home-daughters here.)

FYI, some of these links are from a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous, where former homeschoolers are sharing their stories. A lot of the accounts come from growing up ATI, but not all of them. Also, some of the people share really positive views of growing up homeschooled, including one of the website founders, RL Stollar.

Homeschoolers Anonymous is also related to two other websites: Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. Their goal is to make sure that America doesn’t forget about children like Washington State’s Hana Grace-Rose Williams, a homeschooled child who died of starvation and exposure.

The Coalition is suggesting regulations for homeschooling that include:

  • Parents homeschooling their children should have a GED or high school diploma.
  • Homeschooling parents should not be sex offenders.
  • Parents should teach the same subjects as public schools, but be free to use any materials they would like.
  • Children should not be forced to be at grade level.
  • Parents should be required to maintain academic records for the homeschooled children (so they could later go to college.)
  • Parents should be required to submit birth certificates to the state. (Btw, in the case of Hana Grace-Rose Williams, nobody was certain when she died how old she was, and her body had to be exhumed during her parents’ murder trial.)
  • Progress should be assessed each year with an exam of the parents choosing.
  • There should be a yearly portfolio review.

To me as a public school person, these ideas seem like no-brainers. But to the homeschooling community, this is a big deal. My understanding is that some homeschoolers view any regulations as a potential threat to their rights to homeschool, and therefore are against any oversight whatsoever.

It’s really important to note that not all homeschoolers in America are religious. Also, many families who are religious, choose to homeschool for primarily academic reasons.

When it comes to schooling, I am Pro Choice. I’ve taught at a really horrible public school before. If my children were living in that district, I would want to be able to homeschool too. So I fully support the right to homeschool and want that option to be protected.

But whoa! How are we as a society to protect homeschooled kids from people who hit young babies and burn their daughters’ birth certificates? How do we protect the next Hana Grace-Rose?

I wish I had the answers but I don’t. I’m just a typical mom, glued to the television, watching those Duggar kids smile. Only now, I’ve got chills.

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