Record: Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “A Complex Picture: Results of the 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschooling Movement” Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (2 December 2014). Available Here.
Summary: Readers of these reviews are likely familiar with the emergence of a vocal and well-organized cohort of young graduates of Christian homeschooling who have lately been actively involved in several political and policy-related homeschooling issues. Two of the most visible organizations to have emerged out of this community have come together for this report. Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO), was founded in 2013 after the successful launch of its sister website Homeschoolers Anonymous. One of its founders, Ryan L. Stollar, created the survey for this report. In December 0f 2013 the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CHRE) was founded by Heather Doney and Rachel Coleman (Stollar is a board member). CHRE analyzed the data for this report. The two groups are organizationally distinct but clearly have overlapping concerns about the lax regulations imposed on homeschooling in most states. HARO does not officially take policy positions. CHRE does. But both groups clearly share the same editorial space. Their leadership, membership, and readership consists largely of formerly homeschooled young adults who generally would like to see more oversight of homeschooling in the United States due to a perceived tendency of some homeschooling situations to provide sub-standard education at best and outright child abuse at worst. Both organizations are also often critical of the Christian fundamentalism in which most of their members were raised.
This document summarizes the results of a survey Stollar composed and sent out to his extensive network of formerly homeschooled young adults, first through Homeschoolers Anonymous and then through Facebook. The survey was hosted on SurveyMonkey and was made available for about a month from mid-August to mid-September 2014, during which time 3,702 respondents completed it. To be counted, respondents had to agree that they had been homeschooled for at least 7 years in a Christian context, were at least 18 years old, and were taking it for the first time.
The survey report is quick to acknowledge that the voluntary nature of this internet-based survey is by no means a representative sample of the homeschooled adult population, nor can its conclusions be used to compare that population with any other group. The data only applies to the 3,702 individuals who took the survey.
With that major caveat, the CHRE authors proceed to unpack the data. Demographically, most of the respondents were in their 20s (half were under 26 years old). Three times as many women as men took the survey. 85% of respondents were white. Family income was bimodal, with a large group coming from families making $30-50 thousand a year and another large group making in excess of $100,000 a year. Responses were geographically very diverse, though California and Texas each claimed about 10% of respondents. Most respondents had 2 to 3 siblings, but a substantial minority had more, some many, many more. 83% identified as sexually “straight,” with the rest claiming a multitude of sexual identities (the second most common being bisexual). Nearly 3/4 of the sample was employed either full or part time, and 60% felt prepared for their jobs.
Next the CHRE authors provide data summarizing the various survey questions pertaining to social/political attitudes. For some items the survey asked respondents to compare their childhood beliefs to their current beliefs, ranking them on a Likert scale from 1-5. For example, the first question asked respondents to state their attitudes toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons on a scale from “very positive” to “positive” to “neutral” to “negative” to “very negative.” Results found a clear and dramatic shift from the negative side of the ledger in respondents’ childhoods to the positive side in adulthood. Despite this increased tolerance for sexual diversity, respondents overwhelmingly seemed disinterested in deviant sexual practices in their own lives, based on the next question.
The second topic reported on was family and education. 46% were married. Only 31% had children, though the authors remind us that the survey skewed young. A further 42% planned on having children in the future. Of those who had or planned on having children, well over half intended to homeschool them, though a substantial percentage of respondents (about 35%) claimed that their educational decisions would be pragmatic, based upon the needs of each child. Some 2/3 of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that their own homeschooling had prepared them well for the future, though a substantial minority (25%) disagreed. Broken down by subject, respondents tended to rank their humanities preparation (language, history, arts) better than their science, foreign language, or math preparation. Very few in the sample identified with the “unschooling” tendency. Most had participated in sports, had hobbies, had socialization opportunities. About half were not allowed to listen to secular music, but in other ways most of the experiences reported here seem pretty normal.
Next comes religious issues. Interestingly, despite a fairly typical range of options provided on the survey, the most commonly marked box for religious identity in childhood was “other” (28%). The second most popular identity was “non-denominational” (26%). It becomes clear from the next question that many of these “other” families were some sort of fundamentalist Protestant, as some 58% of respondents agreed that their family had been fundamentalist according to George Marsden’s definition. Current attitudes toward family religion was bimodal, with the majority favorable toward the religion of their childhoods, very few neutral to it, and a substantial minority unfavorable. Four out of five respondents still consider themselves to be Christian. The rest are fairly equally split between atheists, agnostics, and some other religion or spirituality.
Next comes health issues. 44.5% of respondents have seen a therapist for a mental health issue. 25% have a mental illness diagnosis, and 23% more think they probably have a mental illness but have never been diagnosed. 14% of respondents claim that a parent has a diagnosed mental illness and a a further 35% suspects a parent has a problem. 28% of respondents reported struggling with self-harm tendencies (recall that the sample was overwhelmingly female). 8% have attempted suicide. A substantial group reported experiencing some sort of abuse in childhood. 30% claimed emotional abuse. 17% claimed educational neglect. 16% claimed physical abuse. Almost 5% claimed sexual abuse. About 25% think that spanking is by definition abusive, and about 1/3 claim they would never spank a child. Respondents generally have a much more positive view today of government employees like public school teachers and social workers than they did as children.
Appraisal: To its credit as mentioned above, this report acknowledges explicitly up front that it is not representative of anything. To embellish this point just a bit, it is highly likely that Stollar’s method of distribution (advertising the survey on the Homeschoolers Anonymous website and other networks of the like-minded) would tend to produce a sample of subjects whose perspective on the world is very similar to his own and to those of the other leaders of HARO and CRHE. Given this, I think the best thing about this survey is that it tells us quite a bit about the sort of people who are most likely to be in this orbit. Who are they? They’re mostly young, white, tech-savvy females who are still basically Christian but more tolerant than their parents were. About a quarter of them had really negative homeschooling experiences and are still trying to process that. The rest had good experiences themselves but knew people who didn’t so are sympathetic to critiques of the current homeschooling legal climate. At least that is what I conclude when reading between the lines here.
There are a few questions I wish Stollar had asked that he didn’t. Why is there no question about higher education? I’d really like to know what percentage of this sample completed 2 and 4 year programs, how many went on (or were planning to go on) to graduate school, and so forth. There’s also no direct question about political affiliation or partisan orientation. At the very least a simple Likert Scale Conservative to Liberal spread would have been nice to have. I also wonder why so many of those who started the survey (6,249) failed to complete it. Was the survey’s early emphasis on questions related to sexual variance perhaps a factor? To me that was the one part of the survey that did not exactly make sense, especially its placement. The kink question to me, if worthy of inclusion at all given the absence of questions about any number of significant political and social attitudes (nothing here about racial attitudes, about attitudes about gender equality, immigration, or any domestic or foreign policy issue), should have been placed in a later section. It would be unfortunate if several hundred potential respondents gave up on the survey because of this one out-of-place and seemingly random question.
One final comment. The authors of the report conclude that there are “unusually high” rates of GLBTQ identity and mental health issues in this sample. Compared to what? No comparison data is provided. This is understandable given the authors’ principled acknowledgement that the sample cannot be compared to anything else. But in what sense then are these rates unusual? Would a convenience sample of internet-savvy twentysomething white Christian females who attended public or private schools have lower rates of GLBTQ identity and mental illness? Higher? Would it matter? That’s the problem with this data. It’s interesting to read, but what does it tell us really? Not much, except perhaps that Stollar’s Facebook friends aren’t into bondage.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College, author of Homeschool: An American History.
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