I don’t have a piece of research to review for this week so instead I’ll briefly comment on a few homeschooling-related stories that have recently made the news or appeared in trade magazines.
First, there’s a great story in this week’s Sports Illustrated (28 September 2009) about Bonnie Richardson, who single-handedly won the class 1A Texas state track championship for her teeny school Rochelle High. The story describes Bonnie’s “low-expectations town” where youth who don’t get pregnant as teens leave as soon as they can. Yet Bonnie and her two sisters have all excelled. Why? Author Gary Smith explains,
Jack and Madelynn were determined to give Adele, Lee and Bonnie the same gift they’d grown up with–the great wide open–without conceding an inch of education or opportunity to suburban or city kids…. Mom homeschooled her three daughters during their early hears, having them run laps around the house for phys ed. ‘We can say our phonics charts in our nightmares,’ says Lee. (p.62)
After homeschooling, Bonnie’s parents became very active in the local high school. Her father served on the school board and her mother, acquiring a teaching certificate, taught all of the high school science classes. Smith’s story goes on to tell in gripping detail about the childhood and athletic achievements of this remarkable young woman.
Next, there’s a horrible story posted on Sept. 9, 2009 at The Nation with the provocative title “The Nightmare of Christianity.” Max Blumenthal provides here fascinating details about Matthew Murray, the 24 year-old who killed two Youth With A Mission (YWAM) staffers and then, thirteen hours later, killed two and injured two more at the famous New Life Community Church in Colorado Springs, before he was courageously taken down by undercover guard Jeanne Assam.
Blumenthal’s reportage gives us an intimate look at Murray’s pious upbringing and many disappointments, quoting at length from his internet postings and other writings. We learn about his homeschooling and how he hated it. According to Blumenthal, the Murrays used Bill Gothard’s authoritarian Basic Life Seminars and little else to teach him. There are no government records on Murray past third grade, and it’s hard not to notice the almost sub-literate style Murray exhibits in his online postings.
We read of how Murray was forced by his mother to attend either YWAM’s “Discipleship Training School” or Oral Roberts University. He chose YWAM but was kicked out of the program because of his incorrigible and anti-social attitude. We learn of his anger at Ted Haggard, the infamous pastor of New Life Community Church who was at one time president of the National Association of Evangelicals and one of the country’s leading preachers before the scandal broke that he led an underground life paying for gay sex while taking crystal meth.
With this backstory in place Murray’s violence against the YWAM headquarters and New Life Church make sense. Blumenthal summarizes:
All four of Murray’s victims were youthful, mostly home-schooled and extremely idealistic. They could have been his roommates at YWAM or could have joined him in a Christian youth fellowship. They seemed so much like him, at least on the surface. So did he single them out? Although there is no conclusive answer, Murray’s acknowledged grievances hint at his motives. Each of his victims represented to him the obedient, unquestioning religious automaton he was required to be but never could become. They had embarked on the exotic foreign missions he had been rejected for, discovering friendship and even (nonsexual) wholesome romance while he languished in his room–his “buried kennel.” The blithe everyday existence of these shiny, happy Jesus people was Murray’s “Christian nightmare.”
Blumenthal goes on to explain how many Christian sources have interpreted Murray’s actions as the logical consequence of listening to rock music, looking at pornography, or perhaps demonic possession. The Murray parents are model conservative Christians, and in their Dobson interview they were at a loss to explain their son’s behavior. Blaming Satan was about the best they could do.
But after all of this powerful reportage, Blumenthal tries to replace one simplistic and reductive interpretation of Murray’s actions with another. It wasn’t Satan, says Blumenthal. It was Conservative Christianity itself that produced this monster. But blaming Christianity for Matthew Murray is no different than the frequent Christian strategy of blaming Atheism for the atrocities of the Soviet Union and other dictatorial regimes. Most atheists are not Joseph Stalin, and most Christians are not Matthew Murray.
On a related note, there’s this horrific story that’s been in the news this week about a homeschooled girl, her friend, and both her parents all bludgeoned to death by a “horrorcore” rapper the family had brought home to Farmville, VA to stay with them after meeting at a horrorcore convention. The murdered girls, both homeschooled, were described as dressing in the goth style and spending a lot of time on Myspace (their screen names were “Ragdoll” and “Free Abortions”). The murdered parents had taken the girls to a 10 hour horrorcore concert in Michigan, where they met the killer and brought him back to Virginia. The mother was a criminal justice professor at a small college and the father a part-time Presbyterian preacher. Many internet sites, including Rod Dreher’s crunchy con blog, have been ablaze with indignation at the parents’ willingness to accompany their daughter to such an unseemly event.
Finally, here’s a story from Nashville, TN about a man “employed by Wynonna Judd to homeschool her two kids” who has been charged with several counts of child pornography distribution. Judd fired him after he was arrested.
Being news items, these stories are of course sensationalistic and atypical, but they do remind us that homeschooling is a much more complicated and heterogeneous thing than many people realize. A country music legend chooses homeschooling for her children. A Gothardite becomes a Christ-hating murderer. A homeschooling mother gets certified and teaches at the public high school where her daughters excel. A couple of goth homeschoolers are murdered by their own rhetorical ideals. Homeschooling is as varied and unpredictable as life itself.