The Duggars are in the news and I never wrote part two of my sheltering post, so my head is exploding. This post is first to explain sheltering gone wrong, and second, to explain what Ben and I are expecting to achieve with our parenting methods. Let’s start with the Duggars – the glittery pastel poster family for crazy huge religious homeschooling families. Some people see them as a creepy burden on the ecosystem, others look at them and wish they had the faith and the bionic woman body to attempt it. I think most people are completely unaware of what lies under the patina of Aussie Instant Freeze hairspray, or if they are aware, they don’t differentiate between the strange workings of a large family and the deeply damaging effects of belonging to a high demand group.

The Duggars are tightly allied with the disgraced Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principals – tightly enough to be featured speakers at the 2014 conference, and to have sent their son to a training camp post-scandal. Gothard’s teachings are pretty closely aligned with the patriarchy movement, though he rejects the movement itself. He still asserts that women should not vote, girls should not attend college and should live in their parents’ homes until they are handed over to husbands, and women are subject to the God-given authority of men. He teaches that women were created to serve men and to be under their authority.


Take a look at an IBLP instructional pamphlet about how to deal with sexual abuse. Truly disgusting and frightening. I shudder to imagine the women and children of IBLP who have been blamed for the abuse they suffered. What a coincidence that a sexual predator taught his victims that abuse is their own faults and God wants it to be swept under the rug


The Duggars don’t hide their support for IBLP. They stand at the Training Center podium and speak. They have not repudiated Gothard or anything he has preached. They are the celebrity face of his teachings. Being an organized, joyful large family is one side of IBLP, but that side can’t be divorced from the teaching that children are the property of their fathers and that, even in cases of serious abuse, they should not be removed from his direct, physical authority – at least, not by his wife. That’s a job for higher authorities. The wife’s job is to first appeal to her husband to quit diddling Junior (since Daddy presides over her as well as the children). If that doesn’t work, she may ask her parents and his to tell him to stop, the next step is to ask the church authorities to get him to stop, and if all else fails, call the cops.


Never mind that Junior is still suffering the abuse through this entire charade. Junior is a child, and his job is to obey without question. Also, anything that happens to Junior or Mother while they are under the umbrella of Daddy’s authority is God’s Will, so quit yer sniveling.


Michelle Duggar has explained that she uses a form of blanket training on her toddlers. This technique was first described in Michael and Debi Pearl’s To Train Up a Child. That book and the methods it teaches have been implicated in several child abuse related deaths. It focuses on obedience training children in ways that most people would consider too violent and humiliating to employ on an animal.

Even if Michelle has modified the Pearl’s approach to the point that it is hardly recognizable, (and that seems likely, based on her description), the concept of blanket training or “quiet training,” as she calls it, is contrary to my ideas of morality. The most significant difference between humans and animals is that, starting from birth, we have a miraculous ability to learn and learn and learn, abandoning old practices that worked for new ones that might work better. Watch a baby learn to creep, then crawl, then walk. He can get from point A to point B very well on his belly, but he can’t resist pushing up and trying to crawl. Then those babies crawl so fast! They zoom all over the house wreaking havoc with abandon. But it’s not enough; next they’re standing and taking a step and falling and stepping and falling and stepping and falling. That baby was so fast crawling around the house, but now he insists on walking, and he has bruises on his head and scratches on his hands, but he won’t quit. Getting out to the car or into the library takes an hour because he insists on using his new skills. Soon enough he can’t crawl at lightning speed any more. Crawling has been abandoned before walking is fully developed. And there’s a reason for that. Learning is a child’s highest priority, and he is willing to sacrifice almost anything for more experiences and more skills. A mobile baby is into Ev-er-y Thing! Lock the dvd’s in a cupboard, put latches on all the cabinets and don’t leave your water glass where he can climb up and get it because the world is his oyster and he’s going to open it, eat what he can and break what’s left.

Now imagine taking that creeping, just learning to crawl baby and putting him on a blanket with one toy. Every time he makes it off the blanket, you give him a little swat on his thigh with a flexible ruler, or maybe if you’re a very enlightened blanket trainer, you take the extra hours and just keep physically placing him on the blanket without hitting his precious chubby legs. You keep putting him back on that blanket until he learns to stay on the blanket. Congratulations! You have completed Michelle’s first step in training up an obedient puppy, I mean, child. You have also taught your child that curiosity and exploration are not for him. This fits nicely with the theology of Bill Gothard. Children who are curious and brave grow into adults who don’t follow the rules, and where will Bill find his next victim if there aren’t enough pliable, obedient young women following him around or if their fathers fail to show proper deference to church authorities and make an unnecessary fuss?

In his analysis of Gothard’s teachings, David Henke explains the aspects of the IBLP’s methods that make it distinctly cultish. The article is comprehensive and lays out a damning repudiation of Gothard’s methods, but one particularly relevant criticism Henke had was the IBLP’s very intricate regulation of family relationships; reducing every family interaction to a series of steps. Here he quotes another critic of Gothard, “Wilfred Bockelman said, “It seems that Gothard fails to adequately present the need for relationships with children, positing instead the proper role and proper discipline that is necessary to get a desired response from the children. The preoccupation is with control, predictability, the proper behavior instead of the need for nurturing relationships in which learned behavior and attitudes come from models, not coercive manipulation” (p. 83, emphasis in original).”

I don’t watch 19 Kids and Counting, and I question the common sense quotient of any couple who would invite television cameras into their home, but I think it is important, especially for homeschoolers, to have clarity and to speak with clarity about the problems we see in the homeschool movement. Jim Bob and Michelle aren’t random weirdos. Their scheme is doomed. It will become obvious that you can’t train a child like a puppy and expect her to retrieve your slippers until you hand her over to a new master whose slippers she will retrieve until she dies, hopefully of natural causes not related to the 15th child birth in 17 years. When one or more of the Duggar children rejects their upbringing with a spectacular explosion of self-destruction, it won’t be another entertaining reality tv meltdown, it will be a homeschooling scandal that will bring more attention and regulation to our community.

The most frustrating thing about the Duggars is that their family picture flashes in most people’s heads when they hear that I have 6 kids ages 11 – 1 and I homeschool. It sounds ridiculous, but please believe me when I say, the Duggars would hate me if we met. Our world views, and more importantly, our views of parenting are so wildly divergent they would scream in pain if they ever came within shouting distance – and they won’t, unless of course the Duggars come to Jesus, and I sincerely hope they do before they hurt any more of their beautiful children.

There is a very small and very noticeable contingent of homeschoolers who keep their kids out of traditional schools because they wish to train them better. All of the rest of us keep our kids out of school because we don’t want them to be trained. We want them to be educated. We don’t keep them at home because we can build better, tighter fences to keep their brains hemmed in and operating on the only frequency we can allow. We bring them home to give them space to run free. We don’t want them sitting quietly, obeying without question or guarding their thoughts from unapproved intruders. We shelter them from influences that would crush their creativity. We guard them from the cruelty of sameness and ridiculous standards of perfection. We want them to have a social life that is interesting, enriching and uplifting, not deflating, demeaning and insipid. We bring them home to grow into the beautiful people they already are, not to impose a single acceptable life path. We wish for them neither slavery to a cubicle nor the kitchen, but a life of their own choosing, one that involves pain and sacrifice for the things they want most and rich rewards when they achieve them. We want their lives to be as fruitful for the rest of us as they are for our children, and that magical mix happens when people are allowed to discover and nurture their gifts and turn them into a way of life.

When I imagine my children as adults, I don’t dream about their religion or the size of their families or their political affiliation. I fantasize about their confidence, about the love they give and receive and the joy they find in the work they have chosen. I know that the vast majority of homeschool families dream the same dreams for their kids, and all of us participate in this educational labor of love for the same reason – our kids are not gifts to us. We don’t own them. Our time with them is the gift, and we refuse to give it up or to spoil it by trying to turn them into our possessions.

This means that we have a duty to children who are not our own. All adults have a responsibility to the children in their community, and homeschooling parents have a special obligation to look out for the children in the community they have chosen. Those who are being treated like possessions usually come to awareness in their teenage years or young adulthood. They often awaken from a daze to realize they have no skills, very few original thoughts and no support from their family. Unless you have been a ray of sunshine during the years of fogginess and blind obedience, you are unlikely to be able to help when the moment of crisis arrives. It takes almost nothing to be that sunbeam. Kind words, genuine interest, a candy bar surreptitiously dropped into a pocket, offers to drive when a ride is needed, help with chores or projects – all of these simple acts add up to the love and acceptance children living in cults or abusive homes are starving for. Keep your eyes open and your heart open, and if you encounter a family where the abuse escalates from messages of cruelty to acts of cruelty, don’t hesitate to do what it takes to make sure those children are protected.  If we want to keep growing happy kids in our homeschooling garden, we have to tend to it, and that includes pulling weeds and helping the children of weeds to bear fruit.